The zoo’s snow leopard cub is one lucky cat. Despite being born with several birth defects affecting his eyes and abnormal development of his rear legs and chest, the cub is receiving the very best care and world-class veterinary treatment to help him overcome these challenges. Shortly after the cub was born, zoo keeper staff, the zoo’s veterinary team, and specialists from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine immediately went to work crafting a unique and customized treatment plan that includes physical therapy specifically designed to address his medical condition while allowing him to remain with, and bond with his mom.
As the cub has grown, he has developed noticeably splayed back legs, commonly referred to as “swimmers syndrome” in dogs and cats and is currently receiving physical therapy sessions three times a day to correct and improve his ability to walk. These sessions include assisting the cub to walk on surfaces with good traction (such as grass, compacted mulch or high-friction rubber flooring). He is also receiving help during these sessions with the use of a supportive rear-lifting harness. The harness lifts his hips and helps him position his rear legs underneath him.
Erin, one of the cub’s primary zookeepers, notes that establishing and maintaining a positive relationship with Misha (the cub’s mother), has allowed staff to safely work with the cub in a way that is stress-free for mom and cub. This is very important since Misha is a first-time mom and the cub is still quite young. In working closely with the zoo’s veterinary staff and our colleagues from UC Davis, the animal care team has been able to use these positive relationships with Misha and her cub to provide daily physical therapy.
Erin said, “we are so happy with the progress we have seen thus far, and we are continuing to reevaluate the cub’s needs so that he succeeds in this journey. Watching him gain confidence and progress in his daily sessions has been a really rewarding experience.”
In the short amount of time staff has been working with the cub, they have already noticed progress. While his condition is still serious, we are hopeful that he will continue to improve. The zoo staff are exploring additional treatment and flooring options to support the cub’s physical development and, as a part of his treatment plan, are considering the possibility of allowing the cub limited and monitored access to his exhibit. We will provide ongoing updates as to when the cub will be visible to the public.
In addition to his mobility issues, the cub also has eyelid birth defects which may require surgery as he gets older. These abnormalities are a known issue for some snow leopards under human care. But, thanks to expert care by keepers, veterinary staff and specialists from UC Davis, the cub’s future is looking bright.
At the Sacramento Zoo, our animals receive the very best veterinary care. Our longstanding collaboration with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine allows us to consult with specialists from UC Davis, such as veterinary ophthalmologists and orthopedic surgeons. Preliminary evaluations show that the cub’s abnormalities are most likely treatable, and he will continue to be monitored for changes to his eyes or locomotion.
The Sacramento Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and participates in the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan® by following breeding recommendations and increasing awareness of the problems facing this species. Snow leopards are vulnerable due to poaching, loss of prey, and the fragmentation of habitat. The Sacramento Zoo also supports snow leopard conservation, partnering with organizations such as the International Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Conservancy by donating funds for educational materials and conservation programs in the range where snow leopards are found in the wild.