IF YOU GO
* What: Snow Leopard Appreciation Day.
* When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
* Where: Chattanooga Zoo, 301 N. Holtzclaw Ave.
* Admission: Free with gate admission ($8.95 adults, $6.95 seniors, $5.95 children ages 3-12).
* Phone: 423-697-1322.
* Website: www.chattzoo.org
Everest and Maliha are ready to make their debut.
The two snow leopard cubs, the newest additions to the Chattanooga Zoo, will go on display Saturday for the first time since their birth on Oct. 2.
The cubs were out for a short time Thursday, following their mom, Kashmir, as she walked around a small yard.
Maliha, the adventurous one, came out first, eventually slinking over to the fence where zoo staff members were busy giving interviews. Everest didn't join his sister in exploring, sticking close to his mother's side.
Even after they were corralled by their mom back into their den, the two cubs kept popping their heads out to see what was going on.
"It's a little different this time around [for Kashmir]," said Lisa Flood, curator of mammals and birds at the zoo. "She'll have one with her, and she'll turn around looking for the other one. She's a very good mom."
The new cubs are a rarity for many reasons.
Snow leopards, which are native to the mountainous region of central Asia, are an endangered species with only about 6,000 left in the wild. Of the 12 cubs born in captivity this year, only nine have survived. In the wild, only three mothers have been spotted by conservationists this year, Flood said.
"Births are fun, but significant births like this are even more fun," said Darde Long, executive director of the zoo.
Additionally, snow leopards' usual mating season is between December and February, so it's rare to see cubs born outside the spring.
"You don't really know what's going on with that," Long said. "But if it works for them, then we're happy."
One reason cubs born in Chattanooga may be able to survive and thrive more easily than others may be the relationship between Kashmir and her mate, Czar; they have a stronger bond than leopards in the wild, said zookeeper Ian Salter.
The staff has been preparing the cubs for their big debut, doing what they call a "slow release." Because the cubs are young, the staff expects them to spend time napping Saturday, meaning zoo visitors may have to be patient if they want to catch a glimpse of Everest and Maliha.
But the cubs should come out and show themselves off without any issue.
"They've already covered their first big barriers," Salter said. "Those first big steps are the hardest."
Rachel Bunn is originally from Ellijay, Ga., and graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in magazines and history. While at UGA, she wrote for the student magazine UGAzine, served as news editor for the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and spent a semester studying British history at Oxford University in Oxford, England. She has previously worked at The Rockdale Citizen in Conyers, Ga., and The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the ...