Twin snow leopard cubs born in South Cumbria have been identified as a boy and a girl.
At six weeks old the babies have now opened their eyes to take in the surroundings at Lakeland Wildlife Oasis near Milnthorpe.
Within weeks they will be out in their enclosure so visitors can see them at the dedicated wildlife charity, which sits just off the A6 in South Cumbria.
Lakeland Wildlife Oasis assistant manager Jayne Gibbins said: “The twins’ mum, Tara, isn’t letting them out in the open just yet. She’s very maternal and very protective.
“The vet has visited them now and they’re both fine, which is really great news.”
The twins could play a crucial role in the survival of their critically endangered species.
The zoo’s breeding pair of snow leopards, Tara and Pavan, were deliberately put together as part of a breeding programme.
Snow leopards are extremely rare and the cubs are the first ever to be born in the North of England. They could eventually be moved to the Himalayan region, where the beautiful creatures make their natural home. That is small step along the road to eventually reintroducing snow leopards, possibly offspring from one of the cubs, into the wild.
Dave Marsden, who runs the wildlife charity with his wife Jo, said: “Not many places keep them and there are so few in captivity. It’s a very small gene pool. There might only be 20 or 30 snow leopards in the UK and most of those are at the Cat Survival Trust, which is not open to the public.”
The trust was where the male leopard, Pavan, came to Cumbria from. His mate Tara came from a zoo in Germany. The pair were put together in a closely monitored effort to ensure healthy young.
Snow Leopards are under extreme threat of extinction in the wild. Estimates vary, but the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species suggests there may be 3,500 - 7,000 in the wild.
Dr Terry Moore, who runs the Cat Survival Trust in Hertfordshire, said: “Having any snow leopards born in captivity is very important. It’s still a long way off but we are doing studies that could lead to some being reintroduced.”