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Paws-ing to celebrate Miska, the very clever cat

13 June 2019

A threatened species of big cat is achieving some truly extraordinary things at Melbourne Zoo.

Miska, the zoo’s majestic female Snow Leopard, turns three this week, and is using the milestone to show off some of the stunning and important skills she has learned.

Miska approaches her exhibit training window on cue, where Carnivores Keeper Craig Williams presents a practiced hand gesture. Miska responds by sitting patiently and opening her mouth wide for a dental inspection.

After the quick check-up, she’s promptly rewarded with a treat of milk.

It is truly remarkable viewing on display to the public, and is a result of months of animal welfare training and relationship building between Miska and her keepers.   

Miska is a very clever cat who learns quickly.

Moments later, Miska spots a target to her right-hand side. The target, provided by Mr Williams, is a small rod with a tennis ball attached to its tip. Miska shifts her body and head and gently touches her nose against the ball.

Miska is again positively rewarded with some milk for her behavior.

Most impressive of all, Miska then lifts herself up on her hind legs and positions her front paws high up against her training wall. She is standing two meters tall with her body in full view, which is a response to a back-of-hand signal from by Mr Williams.

Miska, on this occasion, receives a meat reward, which she eagerly accepts.

For Miska and Mr Williams, this is a positive and successful training session. The behaviours learned and displayed in the session provide zookeepers with the opportunity to assess the Snow Leopard’s body and paws on a weekly basis to ensure she is fit and healthy.

Melbourne Zoo’s animal training program, which involves animals of all shapes and sizes, has been designed to provide the highest quality, stress-free medical care for the zoo’s animals.

Snow Leopards such as Miska are native to Central Asia, with just an estimated 3500-7000 of the species remaining in the wild. An additional 10 per cent decline in population is projected over the next three generations as a result of habitat loss, poaching and the impact of climate change.

Miska is one of two Snow Leopards at Melbourne Zoo, which is part of an international breeding program dedicated to saving the species from extinction.

Visitors are able to see Miska and her fellow Snow Leopard, Kang Ju, at Melbourne Zoo’s Carnivores' Trail, from 9am-5pm, seven days a week.