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Snow Leopard Festival Spot On for Winter Fun

Forecast is for 80 tons of snow at Santa Barbara Zoo

Only an estimated 3,900-6,400 snow leopards remain in the wild.
Only an estimated 3,900-6,400 snow leopards remain in the wild. (Santa Barbara Zoo)

A rare blizzard will hit the Central Coast on Sunday, Dec. 3, when 80 tons of snow is delivered for the Santa Barbara Zoo’s annual Snow Leopard Festival, held 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (9 a.m. early admission for zoo members only).

The snow will be shaped into sledding runs for kids (sleds provided), deposited in a snow play area, and provided as enrichment to many of the zoo’s animal residents, including the highly endangered big cats honored at this festival.

At age 19, the zoo’s male snow leopard Everett is the oldest snow leopard living in a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The zoo’s female, Zoe, is 14.

The two are not a breeding pair, but often are seen on exhibit together, which is rare among this solitary species.

As the holidays approach, guests also can visit the zoo’s temporary exhibit of reindeer. Two male reindeer, named Lightning and Holiday, are on view Nov. 22 through Jan. 1.

Santa will be at the zoo for photos and gift requests Wednesdays through Sundays only, Nov. 22-Dec. 24.

Sledding tickets are $3 and are sold at the front gate and at the snow area. No advance sales. Regular admission is required to enter the zoo. Sledding is for children aged 4 to 12 only. No adult sledding.

Sleds are provided; no personal sleds permitted. Snow play area is open to children age 12 and under. For more information, call 962-5339 or visit

There are six sledding runs, including two bunny slopes for younger children. The snow play area has snowman-making supplies, a place to "paint” in the snow using watercolors, and a holiday card craft area.

A snow leopard-related craft is part of the Explore Store’s Explorer Fundays. There’s also face painting and climbing on the 25-foot tall “Mount Everest” climbing wall.

Snow leopard-related toys and books are for sale, as are wool products made by the native people who live near snow leopard habitat, as part of a program of the Snow Leopard Trust.

The zoo supports the Snow Leopard Trust, and proceeds from sales of these items directly benefit snow leopard conservation.

Snow leopards are critically endangered and currently number between an estimated 3,900-6,400 in the wild. They have long been prized as hunter’s trophies, destroyed as predators of domestic flocks, and sought as a source of valuable fur.

Adapted for the extreme weather, snow leopards have been viewed at elevations as high as 19,600 feet in summer.

Their furry feet help them stay on top of the snow by providing a greater surface area–like snow shoes–and their fur keeps their paws warm and dry, providing traction as well. Unlike most big cats, snow leopards don’t roar, but they do make vocalizations.

— Julia McHugh for Santa Barbara Zoo.


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