Two-year-old snow leopard from France headed for the Darjeeling zoo after landing in Kolkata

Namkha, a gift from a Mulhouse zoo in the Alsace region of France, would take part in a captive breeding programme at Darjeeling's Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park.

The male snow leopard was on Monday driven from the Mulhouse zoo to Amsterdam, where he boarded an Emirates flight to Calcutta via Dubai the next day.

Travelling in a 5ftX3ft crate, the snow leopard landed in Calcutta at 8am and spent around 25 minutes at the airport for a health check-up. Following a nod from the quarantine officer at the airport and a senior vet from the Darjeeling zoo, he was transported to an air-conditioned ambulance, which left for Darjeeling around 8.45am.

An average flier from abroad has to spend about an hour for customs and immigration checks.

"The temperature of the ambulance in which Namkha is travelling will not exceed 16°C," said Piar Chand, the director of Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, who had come to receive Namkha. "We plan to halt at a few places and reach Darjeeling late tonight. However, it might take a bit longer as several areas in north Bengal are flooded."

"The two-year-old, equivalent to a human teenager, looked active inside the crate," said V.K. Yadav, member-secretary, Bengal Zoo Authority.

Namkha, a Tibetan word meaning sky or space, was given a meal of chicken but he hardly ate anything, Chand said. "There is nothing to worry. He has been travelling. Some amount of stress is bound to be there," Chand said.

After reaching the hills, Namkha will be kept at a quarantine centre outside the zoo for a month to prevent infections. Then he will be moved to a special enclosure in the zoo. A week later, female snow leopards will be put in an enclosure near his. Once a compatible female is found, the pair will be shifted to the captive breeding enclosure

Debraj Mitra, Telegraph

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