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Pet cats turn out to be leopards
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The photo shows two snow leopard raised by Zhang Peiwei, a herdman in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The photo shows two snow leopard raised by Zhang Peiwei, a herdman in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. [yaxin.com]

Six months ago, Zhang Peiwei, a herdsman from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region took home two cubs which he thought to be wild cats. As the cats changed far beyond his expectation as they grew older, he began to wonder what they really were, and with the help of experts, he is now sure that the two big cats are snow leopards, a very rare wild animal in China. Now, still waiting for a proper solution from the authorities in terms of resettling the rare cats, Mr. Zhang can hardly afford to feed them and urgently needs help.

Around mid-May 2008, as Mr. Zhang was herding his sheep in a valley, he found two kittens in thick grass, soaked by the rain and trembling from cold. He mistook them for ordinary wild cats. Taking pity on the unfortunate creatures, he gave them food and water and took them back home. Mr. Zhang's mother had no suspicions, and helped raise the cats as pets.

By the time the animals were two months old, they were already abnormally large for wild cats, and were beginning to look much like leopards. Mr. Zhang resettled them in his sheep pen. Later he found a lamb had been killed and eaten. From then on, he suspected that the animals were leopards rather than wild cats.

The photo shows one snow leopard raised by Zhang Peiwei, a herdman in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The photo shows one snow leopard raised by Zhang Peiwei, a herdman in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. [yaxin.com]

In early August, an official in charge of wild animal conservation in Yili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture heard about Mr. Zhang's story. He came to Mr. Zhang's house and after careful examination he came to the conclusion that the two cats were snow leopards. A month later, a zoologist accompanied by the official visited Mr. Zhang. The experts observed the animals and confirmed that they were undoubtedly snow leopards, one male and the other female.

Wild Snow leopards are very rare in China and fall under the first grade category of state protection. It is a crime to kill or sell them. After identifying the two leopards, the authorities of Yili decided to let Mr. Zhang keep the animals until they came up with a solution for resettling the cats.

The two snow leopards have lived in Mr. Zhang's home for the last six months. They have grown very big and weigh 15 kilograms each. The "owner" says he feels a kind of attachment to his big pets. But keeping them is a real headache for Mr. Zhang. As well as keeping a constant eye on them, he has to provide four to five kilograms of fresh meat to them every day. Most of his chickens, along with more than 10 sheep have already been fed to the leopards. As the cats grow older, Mr. Zhang finds it increasingly expensive to keep them. Fortunately, some organizations and individuals have lent a helping hand. In appreciation for their generosity, Mr. Zhang has promised he will do his best to raise his leopard pets well.

(China.org.cn by Pang Li, November 14, 2008)

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