KARACHI, Sept 24: Leo, the orphaned snow leopard cub who made headlines last month when he was flown from Pakistan to the US, will make his official debut today at New York’s Bronx Zoo, event organisers told Dawn.

First Lady of Pakistan Begum Sehba Musharraf will be the honoured guest on the occasion, according to programme details provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the administrators of the Bronx Zoo.

Leo and a female sibling that later died were rescued last year by a shepherd in Naltar Valley, Northern Areas, after their mother was reportedly killed by a landslide. In July 2005, little Leo was handed over to the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) and was subsequently hand-reared by Mr Kamaluddin of the Northern Areas Forest and Wildlife Department.

“Leo was ill, very weak and weighed only 1.5 kilograms when he was given to me on July 14 last year,” Kamaluddin, a resident of Sust in upper Hunza, said at a handing-over ceremony in Islamabad on August 8, 2006. “I looked after the cub like my child and gave him goat’s milk.”

The next day 13-month-old Leo left for the Bronx Zoo under a unique partnership between the US and Pakistan governments, facilitated by WCS and other conservation groups including WWF-P and IUCN.

All animals brought to the Bronx Zoo pass through a mandatory quarantine protocol and acclimatisation process, WCS assistant director of communications Linda Corcoran told Dawn. With this settling-in period now over, Leo is set to make his first public appearance at the Bronx Zoo’s Himalayan Highlands exhibit.

The zoo is renowned for its captive breeding programme for snow leopards, a critically endangered species whose natural high-altitude mountain habitat extends from Mongolia to Uzbekistan.

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