New York, N.Y. - Heather Gordon, a zookeeper at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Central Park Zoo, has always had a passion for wildlife. A lover of all animals, she's in charge of caring for such exotic animals as polar bears, Japanese snow monkeys and sea lions. But her job has taken a wild turn, and now she’s taken the lead in caring for one of the most critically endangered species in the world.
As the Central Park Zoo gears up to open the new Allison Maher Stern Snow Leopard exhibit next month, Gordon has been working to prepare these beautiful rare cats for their new home. She's among several zookeepers working with the zoo's three recently acquired snow leopards to get them acclimated to their new digs here in Central Park, which will be a beautiful outdoor habitat that resembles the evergreen forests of their native Central Asia. Over the last two months, Gordon has spent several hours a day working with and training these amazing animals, encouraging them to explore their new exhibit.
Although this is no doubt an exciting job, Gordon admits it can be tough work. Sometimes it can be exhausting to work with such naturally shy animals who are very sensitive to changes in their life, including a change of surroundings. Because of this, the keepers must have a lot of patience during training and remember that getting the cats acclimated to their home will come in time.
"Training with the snow leopards has been a bit challenging since they're still getting used to their new environment, but we've been working on developing a bond and a lot of trust that has shown them to be more comfortable here these days than when they first arrived," Gordon explained. "Now, they are coming to the front of their holding area to solicit interaction from us, which they didn't appear to do upon their immediate arrival at the zoo."
Training the snow leopards isn’t only necessary for bringing the animals on and off exhibit, but also to keep their minds and bodies vital and active.
In addition to her work with these critically endangered animals at the zoo, Gordon has been researching their status, and the plight they face in wild. Like many other animals in across the globe, snow leopards are rapidly decreasing because of human habits, including hunting for their pelts.
"Because of they are so endangered, it's both our and the public's responsibility to help conserve this magnificent rare species," Gordon said.