WATCH ANY FASCINATING DOCUMENTARY... about the wildlife that lives high up in the peaks of Central Asia and you may find yourself starting intently, and patiently, at various crags and overhangs, awaiting the sign of spots or fur or a long tail or big paws or whiskers or any of the telltale signs of the stunning snow leopard. It's an animal that's frequently paired with the word "mythic" in various writing, but it doesn't just exist in tapestries and tales. It's here, now, on our planet, living concurrently with us and all of its other co-earthlings, and it is a beastie that deserves humankind's protections and concern. There are ways to spread this message, outside of the excellent documentaries out there, and the Santa Barbara Zoo does so, each early December, with a fun day attached for the young'uns. It's the animal park's annual Snow Leopard Festival, a celebration to raise awareness about the feline, described by the zoo as both "beautiful" and "elusive." There are two of those beautiful creatures at the zoo, and guests can see them during their visit: Everett is 17 and Zoe is 12, and both are powerful symbols of preservation and love for the leopards, and all cats, everywhere.
SNOW... is definitely a theme at the Sunday, Dec. 6 party, and some 80 tons'll be trucked in for a sledding run. A snow play area -- described as "bigger" than in years past -- and an area to make animal tracks in the snow are also on the to-do list, as is snow painting. Be sure to watch as the snow leopards frolic in the frosty white stuff, too, as well as other animals around the park (otters, meerkats, and the barnyard animals will also receive the chilly stuff during the day). A scent enrichment activity will challenge guests to pick the favorite fragrance of the snow leopard, and a 25-foot-tall Mount Everett climbing wall will give adventurers a chance to go up, up, up. Through all the play, though, the message is a moving one: Snow leopards are "highly endangered," and staying educated about the threats they face, and working to address those, is a responsibility we all share. To look upon Everett and Zoe with affection, as they tumble about in the snow, brings their snow leopard's world home in a real and action-inspiring way.