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Snow leopard cubs under veterinary care

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Now 10-weeks-old, the zoo’s female snow leopard cubs, Shanti and Asha, continue to receive special medical care behind the scenes.

Last week the two received cardiac ultrasounds as a precautionary measure. The ultrasounds were performed by the zoo’s volunteer veterinary cardiologist Dr. Jerry Woodfield of Northwest Cardiology Consultants in Seattle. Findings revealed mild functional deficiencies in several valves in the female cubs. 

The zoo’s Director of Animal Health, Dr. Darin Collins, tells us that the function of their hearts does not appear to be compromised and there are no health concerns at this time related to their hearts. This is good news, as you’ll remember back in June we shared the heartbreaking news that their male littermate had to be euthanized because he had been born with multiple severe heart defects that were causing early heart failure.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

All three cubs were born with eye and eyelid defects, known as multiple ocular coloboma. According to Dr. Collins, both of the surviving cubs have impaired vision and are under close observation. Additionally, they continue to receive eye examinations by Dr. Tom Sullivan, the zoo’s volunteer veterinary ophthalmologist with the Animal Eye Clinic in Seattle, who performed the first of multiple minor procedures to the eyelids last month.

The overall health of the cubs appears stable but their long-term prognosis remains guarded, particularly their visual capabilities.

The cubs are still nursing and have recently begun eating solid foods—a diet of diced chicken and beef. They currently weigh between 8 and 9 pounds.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
Curator Dr. Jennifer Pramuk tells us that the cubs are eating well but their motor skills are not at a level where they should be at this age, and growth development is a bit lagging. Because of their special needs, we cannot determine when the cubs will go on public exhibit.

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
They are venturing out of the maternal den into the outdoor holding enclosure but they will require a longer period of time to develop motor skills and adjust to the spacious surroundings in the public exhibit before zoo-goers can see them.

The father was born with the same congenital eye defect. His first litter of two cubs with the same mother was born healthy and normal. The coloboma condition has been seen in snow leopards at other zoos. The cause of coloboma remains unknown. Zoo staff will be attending a national meeting of zoo professionals next week in Utah to discuss the disease impacts on the overall population of this endangered species. 

Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Since snow leopards are solitary animals in the wild, the father has been separated and is on public view in the snow leopard exhibit adjacent to Australasia.

The snow leopard, an endangered species, is a moderately large cat native to the high mountain ranges of Central Asia and Russia, including in Afghanistan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal and Pakistan. Snow leopard scientists estimate as few as 3,500 remain in the wild.

As part of Woodland Park Zoo’s partnership with 36 field conservation projects in the Pacific Northwest and around the world, the zoo partners with the Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust. The Trust was created in 1981 by the late Woodland Park Zoo staff member Helen Freeman, the namesake of the mother of the newborn cubs. Through innovative programs, effective partnerships, and the latest science, the SLT is saving these endangered cats and improving the lives of people who live in the snow leopard countries of Central Asia. 


Anonymous said…
That's so sad. It's hard to look at those pictures. Sigh. I wish conservation breeding could be done in less confined spaces and with more natural surroundings.
veterinary said…
That is such a good idea and we hope lots of people take advantage of it. We have never seen anything like that advertised around here.
Anonymous said…
They're so precious. Thank goodness they'll at least get to grow up and live in an environment where they'll be safe and provided good care. Hopefully the cause of this abnormality will be found and solved quickly. Seems to me a little odd they would breed a father known to have this problem though.

I have a blind kitty at home. She's unbelievably agile/capable. She plays, runs, climbs stairs. If you change her environment she'll run into stuff though. With the right care these kitties can have happy lives.

Hopefully their little hearts won't shorten them.
j.e.silverstein said…
The snow leopard enclosure atr Woodland Park Zoo--which isn't visible in this video--is actually quite spacious, natural, and provides a multi-level environment for the cats to run and climb. What's showing here is the "backstage" area where medical care is provided.
j.e.silverstein said…
The enclosure space for snow leopards at Woodland Park Zoo is actually quite open, spacious, green and natural, and multileveled to provide the cats with exercise and privacy. What is shown here is the "backstage" area where medical care is provided. When the cubs are healthy and old enough to go out, as the article says, they'll be allowed into the larger enclosure.
Unknown said…
The little poor snow leopard cubs look so cute! It's very sad to hear about the eye and eyelid defects, thank god they have a safe environment and they are under veterinary care
Unknown said…
The little poor snow leopard cubs looks so cute! It's sad to hear about their eye and eyelid defects, thank good they live in a safe environment and get veterinary care.
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Paul said…
Those cubs are very adorable indeed but that one eye damaged cub is really made me emotional. It's sad to learn what happened with those cubs but thanks to all of you guys for taking care of those cubs properly. Thanks.
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