Wellington Zoo is considering acquiring snow leopards after plans to house giant pandas were stalled by the Christchurch earthquake.
Last year, Prime Minister John Key expressed enthusiasm for the pandas, saying it would be a great way of extending New Zealand's relationship with China.
However, a spokesperson for Mr Key said on Thursday that the yearly fee of $1.3 million for the animals cannot be justified now.
The spokesperson says the Government is still keen to bring the pandas to New Zealand, but will wait until the economic situation improves.
Wellington Zoo chief executive Karen Fifield says she supports the Government's decision and the zoo is considering creating an exhibit for critically endangered snow leopards instead.
Ms Fifield says the big cats would fit in well with the Asian animals already on display, such as sun bears and red pandas.