Zoo care for snow leopards
Keeping old snow leopards young
Snow leopards in zoos live much longer than their wild counterparts. 20-year-old Shimbu, at Melbourne Zoo for example, is about twice the age she would have been in the wild. She gets more food than in the wild, and it’s better quality food. She lacks predators to harm and injure her, and she has great medical care, including vaccinations when she needs it. But just like humans in old age, older zoo snow leopards can face health issues like arthritis, failing eyesight, cancer and kidney failure. In fact, zoo staff and scientists are still learning more about how to keep old snow leopards young as more and more of them thrive in well designed exhibits throughout the world.
Nowadays zoos have a team of people available to care for their ‘geriatric’ animals. Usually it’ll be the keepers who work with snow leopards on a daily basis who are the first to see signs of stiffness, soreness, slowing down, visible lumps etc. In most zoos the keepers call in the zoo veterinarian but they can also get help from other specialists like behavior experts, pathologists, dentists, ophthalmologists, cardiologists and geneticists.
This team then decides on the long-term health of the cat and what they think the quality of life will be. If the cat is still interested in food and its environment and enrichment activities, and has good mobility, the team may operate (for tumors for example) or treat with medications. For arthritis snow leopards are often given NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and they might also get Glucosamine and Chondroitin for joint health and perhaps steroid anti-inflammatories to manage pain.
Making helpful adaptions in the snow leopard’s home exhibit area can also help keep an old cat young. For example, a snow leopard with failing eyesight might get brighter lights so she can see better and move around more easily.
A cat with arthritis, like 18-year-old Ming Wah at San Francisco Zoo recently got a ramp to help her climb to her favorite high resting place. Some zoos also build heated sleeping areas for arthritic snow leopards.
All these things ensure that snow leopards like Shimbu, Ming Wah, and others in zoos continue to live an active and pain free life when they’ve reached their mature years.
New medical technology is also used for snow leopards in zoos. Big Cat Rescue in the US, recently did a world first operation on Chloe, their female snow leopard when she underwent a lithotripsy operation. Poor Chloe developed stones in the kidney and lithotripsy is a medical procedure that uses ultrasonic waves to shatter these stones. Ultrasonic waves are passed through the body until they strike the dense stones and make it easier for the small pieces to be passed in the urine. The equipment and time of the medical team were all donated. Chloe’s health and well-being have been restored and she should be able to lead a normal life. See the video of this procedure on Chloe.
This video shows the standard 6 week medical exam that Zoos do to make sure snow leopard cubs are healthy and thriving. This video is from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Produced by Ryan Hawk.