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How do you keep an old snow leopard young?

Majestic Shimbu, 20 year old snow leopard at Melbourne Zoo.

Majestic Shimbu, 20 year old snow leopard at Melbourne Zoo. Thanks to Glenn McColl for this photo.

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 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.

18 year old snow leopard Ming Wah

18 year old snow leopard Ming Wah at San Francisco zoo has a ramp to help with her arthritis. Photo SF Zoo.

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 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.

NOTE – Shimbu may in fact be the oldest snow leopard in a zoo any where around the world. She was 20 in February this year (2010). If you know of an older snow leopard let us know.

Thanks to Glenn McColl for this fabulous photo of ‘Shimmi’ taken just a few weeks ago. She’s one regal looking dame!

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • lachlan b August 12, 2010, 6:34 pm

    Sounds like i wouldn’t mind doing some remote conservation work myself :P.

    Good work Sib, we’ll need all the info we can get on these beautiful animals

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