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Saturday, March 23 , 2019, 3:12 pm | Partly Cloudy 61º


Snow Hits the Spot for Santa Barbara Zoo’s Snow Leopard Awareness Day

Zoo trucks in 80 tons of snow for a fun way to educate children, families about endangered big cats

Children hit the sleds at the Santa Barbara Zoo’s eighth annual Snow Leopard Festival on Sunday. The event featured 80 tons of snow and was intended to raise awareness about the endangered big cats, which are native to central and south Asia. Click to view larger
Children hit the sleds at the Santa Barbara Zoo’s eighth annual Snow Leopard Festival on Sunday. The event featured 80 tons of snow and was intended to raise awareness about the endangered big cats, which are native to central and south Asia. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

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Snow made its way to Santa Barbara — but only for a day.

Families wearing winter gloves spent their Sunday afternoon at the Santa Barbara Zoo, playing in 80 tons of snow and learning more about highly endangered snow leopards.

The occasion was the zoo’s eighth annual Snow Leopard Festival, and the event was buzzing with kids — tall and small — taking turns mounting plastic sleds to race down slopes and romping around in snow.

Last year, more than 4,000 people slid down the snow-covered runs, said Maria Martinez, who works with the zoo’s guest services.

This year, approximately 500 people were waiting in line to grab a sled before 9 a.m., and steady streams of visitors continued throughout the six-hour event, she said.

Twelve-year-old Aubrey Clausen and her 10-year-old brother, Braeden, were there from Summerland with their mother and grandmother.

The two glided — or sometimes took a tumble — down the sledding course nearly a dozen times.

“I like this event because you get to see the snow,” Braeden Clausen remarked.

Even though the sledding area was designated for children, parents and young adults also passed time by building snowmen or miniature ice forts and having snowball fights in a designated snow sector.

The frosty event was also devoted to bringing awareness about snow leopards.

“We are drawing attention to one of the world’s most beautiful and uniquely adapted big cats,” explained Dean Noble, the zoo’s marketing director.

The zoo houses two snow leopards — a 19-year-old male named Everett and a 13-year-old female named Zoe.

The large white-gray cat has been listed as “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species since 2003.

The animals, native to central and south Asia, are believed to have declined by at least 20 percent over the past 16 years due to loss of prey and habitat, as well as persecution and poaching, according to the IUCN.

Zoo officials estimate there are between 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards living in the wild.

Santa Barbara Zoo employees work cooperatively with world-class zoological institutions nationally and internationally, to study, care for and propagate the species, Noble said.

The zoo is part of the Snow Leopard Species Survival Program that is administered by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

The facility also supports the International Snow Leopard Trust through donations and awareness building.

“It’s great to see people learning more about these amazing animals and sharing the message about conservation,” said Kristin Wieners, a mammal keeper at the zoo. “Bringing awareness will help bring change.”

She thanked everyone for their support of the snow leopards conservation efforts.

“They are beautiful animals,” Wieners said.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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