Long before it was a movie motto, the Zoo held to the idea that “if you build it, they will come.” The first snow leopard exhibit was built in 1938, but didn’t house the leopards until 1949.
  • 1940s
  • 1950s

Even in the 1940s, snow leopards were a rare sight in the wild and almost unheard of in zoos. So when Tibet and a second cub were acquired in January of 1949, it was big news! For a time the cats held the headlines. Local media followed their journey from India to California by way of the Atlantic and celebrated their long-awaited arrival. Reporters then recounted the cats’ general behavior during their first few days in San Diego. After that, as so often happens, the Zoo’s snow leopards were forgotten by the press—but not by the public.

The two cats had been described as male and female, but they turned out to be two males. Unfortunately the second cub became ill and did not survive, but Tibet thrived. Handsome, active, responsive, and extremely rare, Tibet steadily gained an awestruck following of members that visited him frequently.

No effort was spared to give Tibet the best possible habitat. His cool, dark sleeping quarters were always open to him, and a fine spray of water continually drenched the cave in which he liked to spend the warmer portion of the day. Keepers learned that despite stories to the contrary, this rarest of big cats could be tractable, affectionate, and quite adaptable to a new environment.

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