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Checking in on Snow Leopard Milja

Snow leopard Milja

Posted January 2021

We’re happy to report snow leopard Milja marked her 8-month birthday January 11!

Milja was born May 11 to mom, Orya, and father, Asa. Orya delivered her cub during the pandemic, while the Milwaukee County Zoo was closed to the public.

Keepers shared this recent update on how she’s doing:

For keepers who care for Milja daily, they say it’s been fun to watch her grow and blossom into a playful and interactive snow leopard.

Snow leopards Milja and OryaDuring her first weeks and months of life, she spent a lot of time inside, in the den with mom. Orya exhibits traits of a wild snow leopard, such as elusiveness, and a preference to be alone. Early on, Milja mirrored those traits and was shy and quiet. Recently she has shown another side to her “personality,” becoming very playful and fun. Keepers comment Asa has similar behaviors to Milja – very boisterous, outgoing and playful. When spending time in the outdoor public habitat, Asa often comes right up to the window to greet visitors!

When Oyra delivered her cub during the Zoo closure, keepers believe she benefitted from her quiet surroundings. Keepers took a “hands-off” approach, allowing her to give birth in an ideal atmosphere in the den, and she’s proven to be a fantastic mother. Normally, when there are births in Big Cat Country, cubs are introduced to the public at about 2-3 months of age, so visitors and staff can see and enjoy the new additions. Because of the Zoo closure, visitors’ only opportunity to see and learn about the cub was through videos and descriptions from Big Cat keepers on social media. Milja was officially introduced to the public habitat at 5 months old.

Milja is very interested in what dad, Asa, is doing when she’s in her habitat with mom, and he’s in a nearby outdoor holding area. Visitors might even hear him throwing his enrichment toys, and vocalizing to make himself heard! Keepers are enjoying that Milja has transformed from her earlier years of being shy to growing up to be a very curious and well-adjusted youngster. She’s also interested in her keepers and is eager to participate in training when given the opportunity.

Snow leopards Milja and OryaInterestingly, Orya’s mother, Dshamilja (a wild-born snow leopard), passed away in 2019 which makes our cub the newest generation of this important genetic line. Because zoos no longer take animals from the wild, it’s especially important for these “founder” animals to breed and carry on the legacy. Orya is very important to the North American zoo population, as her genes are new to the population, therefore creating greater genetic diversity.

Milja, like mother Orya, is now an ambassador for her counterparts in the wild. Our Zoo strives to protect and preserve her legacy should she have cubs of her own in the future. Sadly, wild snow leopards face threats from poachers and the illegal wildlife trade. Because wild snow leopard numbers are dwindling, they need to be protected. Fortunately, visitors can benefit and learn about the species at our Zoo.

Serious about Snows? Visit the website for the Snow Leopard Trust, the largest and oldest organization working solely to protect the endangered snow leopard and its habitat in 12 countries of central Asia. Learn what you can do to become a part of snow leopard conservation: www.snowleopard.org

Photo Gallery

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Recent video of snow leopard Milja in her outdoor habitat