Snow Leopard

A snow leopard rests comfortably.

Submitted photo

Parents who have watched a “Madagascar” animated film with their children are likely familiar with Alex, a lion who became quite the showman at his zoo in New York.

During a visit to the Sacramento Zoo this spring in California’s capital city, I encountered a big cat that rivaled Alex’s showmanship skills. Shanti the snow leopard almost seemed to be posing for the photographs taken by her admiring audience.

Shanti gracefully leapt onto a rock wall in her enclosure and sat there like a queen surveying her domain. Then, she yawned, stretched and scratched her head against a nearby branch like a giant kitten with fluffy white fur and black spots.

This big cat was a big hit with my 6-year-old daughter, who left the zoo’s gift store with a plush snow leopard under her arm at the end of the day. She, my sister and I all left with good memories of our experiences at this zoo.

We took time out to tour the zoo during an Amtrak train trip to Sacramento to visit family in this area. The zoo, founded in 1927, is home to more than 140 species of animals on 14.4 acres in William Land Park, which also offers many other family friendly attractions. The zoo is managed by the nonprofit Sacramento Zoological Society.

The snow leopard is not the only big cat at the zoo, which also includes African lion and jaguar exhibits. We were amazed to see a Sumatran tiger at play as it effortlessly pushed a large barrel around its enclosure.

Some of the animals, such as the chimpanzees and the North American river otters, are housed in enclosures with glass barriers that offer unobstructed views of them in action.

I was particularly impressed by the giant anteater I saw in one of these enclosures. As the shaggy anteater quickly paced about, it was difficult at times to tell its long, thin head from its tail. The anteater looked like a creature from another planet.

Visitors can get up-close looks at the Giraffe Encounter exhibit and its viewing deck. There, they can buy a ticket to feed a leafy branch to a giraffe. The encounter was closed when we were there, but we still got to see the giraffes use their lengthy tongues to dine on the leaves of a tree adjacent to their enclosure.

Pathways between the Reptile House, Australian Outback, a small lake and various other exhibits are decorated with animal-inspired artwork. The zoo also offers concessions, a playground, a tour by train and a Conservation Carousel.

The handcrafted wooden carousel includes 32 animals to seat those taking a whirl. We opted to ride on a couple of our favorite zoo animals — the snow leopard and anteater. We were amused to see that one of the carousel animals is a giant dung beetle, with a bench inside his namesake ball of cargo.

Within William Land Park, the zoo is located across the street from the children’s book-themed playgrounds and activities at Fairytale Town. My daughter had a ball walking the Crooked Mile, climbing on a giant Cinderella pumpkin carriage and playing on a pirate ship there during a previous trip.

The 166.5-acre Land Park also offers other attractions that we could visit in the future, including an amphitheater, pony rides, gardens and the carnival rides for young children at the Funderland Amusement Park.

When our travels bring us back to this part of California someday, I am sure that our trip will include a return visit to the animals at the Sacramento Zoo, especially the snow leopard.

This column and previous entries in the series also can be read at

Rob Stroud is a staff writer for the JG-TC. Contact him at or 238-6861.


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