Snow leopard cubs ready to leave Banham Zoo

For more than a year, they have charmed zoo visitors with their cute looks and boisterous games.

But now three rare snow leopards cubs, who were born at Banham Zoo in May 2010, are getting ready to leave their first home.

The male and two females - named Margaash, Rebecca and Ziva - will travel to other zoos as part of the European breeding programme aimed at preserving the beautiful endangered species.

Their arrival gave visitors an unprecedented view of how the extremely secretive big cats rear their young thanks to keepers concealing four CCTV cameras in their den to record the birth and their growth.

The zoo also took the unusual step at the beginning of this year of placing the right to name the cuddly youngsters on an internet auction site with the highest bidders getting to provide the names of their choice. The move raised more than �1,400 for the Snow Leopard Trust.

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But now the studbook coordinator has issued recommendations that the cubs separate and be sent to Dudley Zoo, Howletts Zoo in Kent and Krefeld Zoo, Germany, where they will hopefully continue the breeding success seen at Banham.

Mike Woolham, animal manager, said: 'Both staff and visitors have shared an amazing opportunity to watch the cubs grow up.

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'When they were born they would have weighed less than a kilogram but they are now tipping the scales at 25kg (about four stone) and the time is right for them to depart to their new homes'.

Banham Zoo has been involved in the European Breeding Programme for more than 25 years.

The cubs' parents, Rocky and Enif, have been together since 2008 when Enif was transferred from Tokyo Zoo, Japan.

Snow leopards are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with only 3,500 to 7,000 currently left in the wild.

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