Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 10:51 UK

Rare snow leopards on view at Twycross Zoo

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The snow leopards are part of a breeding program

A £9m Himalayan-themed enclosure featuring two rare snow leopards flown over from Tokyo and Sweden has opened at a Leicestershire zoo.

Irma and Suou have been in quarantine since they arrived in March but are now on view to visitors who can watch them from a new restaurant at Twycross Zoo.

Officials hope the pair, both two years old, will breed in the enclosure.

It is estimated that around 7,000 snow leopards still exist in the wild, mainly in the central Asian mountains.

Irma, the female, was born in captivity in Sweden and survived despite being rejected by her mother as a cub.

Suou came from Tama Zoological Park in Japan.

The new enclosure has been built to resemble a mountain scene.

It is housed in a single-storey grass-roofed building designed to sympathetically blend in with the natural surroundings.

The exhibit has created 23 jobs and zoo staff hope it will boost visitor numbers. The zoo currently receives 500,000 visitors a year.



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