A PAIR of rare snow leopards are set to make the move to Chester Zoo after a planning application for a new habitat has been given the go-ahead.

It will mark the first time in its 92-year-history that the zoo has been home to the animals, which are usually found in the mountains of central Asia in countries such as Mongolia and Nepal.

The zoo – the country’s most visited tourist attraction outside London, with 1.9 million visitors a year – previously applied to Cheshire West and Chester Council to construct an enclosure for the leopards as part of its wider planned Himalayan-themed development.

The animals are among the most elusive species in the world. Habitat deterioration, poaching and climate change are now threatening their survival with only around 4,000 thought to be left in the wild. As of 2017 they were no longer classed as ‘endangered’, but ‘vulnerable’.

Plans are now in place to transport a male and female snow leopard to the zoo at some point in 2024.

The 1,500 sq m area is to be built on part of the zoo which currently houses the blesbok (antelope) habitat and wetland bird nursery, which would be relocated to the Conservation Breeding and Management Area (CBMA) located on Caughall Road.

The plans include a single storey animal building surrounded by a five-metre retaining wall, with a netted enclosure encompassing the whole structure at a height of eight metres to the rear and five metres to the front, with a public viewing gallery also being built.


A design and access statement submitted in support of the plans said: “The snow leopard is an iconic species with significant public draw and should help drive visitation to the zoo during a period with no other major visitor developments taking place.

“In terms of educational messaging, the zone will provide an understanding of how climate change affects and threatens species, as well as illustrating how water cycles work, from mountain to sea.”

The statement said that in keeping with the general principles of Chester Zoo’s plans the proposed development will exhibit the snow leopards in naturalistic-themed and planted surroundings with ‘high standards of animal welfare’ and visitor facilities, where the snow leopards can be viewed throughout the year either inside or out.

Chester Zoo is undergoing a number of improvements to its site, with its new wedding and events space due to open this spring, and plans already lodged for overnight hotel lodges overlooking spectacular animal habitats.