Project Description

New Habitat for Snow Leopards

The San Francisco Zoo and Gardens celebrated the June birth of two snow leopard cubs. (Mom Dawa and dad, Jimmy G, were presumably ecstatic, while visitors to the Zoo undoubtedly were.) The two new additions created a pressing need to expand and improve the existing habitat to accommodate the growing cubs and their parents.

Expansion of the snow leopard habitat became a priority project in the Zoo’s master planning initiative. The two-phase project will increase the size of the current habitat and introduce an integrated Cat Family Breeding Center, which will enable the Zoo to expand its breeding program to all cat species in its care.

The first phase is the expansion of the habitat to house the snow leopard family of four, with enough room to accommodate two more. Set on a natural slope, the habitat will feature artificial rock and naturalistic elements modeled after the snow leopard’s native habitat in the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia. It is designed with a multitude of climbing structures to provide engagement activities essential to the animals’ health and wellbeing.

The habitat’s viewing cave and viewing pavilion will present visitors with vantage points to observe the snow leopards at rest and play. The exhibit is designed to connect visitors to the species and their natural habitat to increase global awareness and conservation action. Phase I is scheduled to open Summer 2019.

The second phase of the project is the Cat Family Breeding Center. Since 1958, the Zoo has maintained an active snow leopard breeding program, which has produced 30 snow leopards. The new Center will provide the Zoo with the capacity to support the breeding of all cat species in its care.

The Center houses breeding and holding rooms and a neonatal unit, equipped with incubators and other veterinary medical equipment. Seamlessly integrated into the snow leopard habitat, the Center is situated at the crossroads of multiple migration pathways to make it accessible to all cats and to facilitate staff transfer of animals.

The Snow Leopard expansion project is part of the larger renovation of Cat Kingdom, which is also home to the Zoo’s tigers and lions. One of the largest (and most beloved) exhibits, Cat Kingdom, occupies a prime location in the Zoo’s historic core, adjacent to Penguin Island and the south entrance.

The driving force behind the renovations is animal-centered conservation, education and research and represents the Zoo’s institutional shift away from an emphasis on visitor entertainment.

MKThink is designing and building the expanded habitat, with support from W.E.S. Landscape Architecture and Scientific Art Studio, who will fabricate key habitat features. Holmes Structures is the structural consultant on the project.