SEATTLE ‒ Woodland Park Zoo’s 3½-month-old female snow leopards, named Shanti (shawn-tee) and Asha (aw-shuh), have gone through another round of surgery to correct their impaired vision.
The snow leopards were born with eye and eyelid defects, a condition known as coloboma, and both remain blind in the right eye, which also is abnormally small in both cubs. The third cub, a male, was euthanized in June because he had been born with multiple severe heart defects that were causing early heart failure.
Dr. Tom Sullivan, the zoo’s volunteer veterinary ophthalmologist with the Animal Eye Clinic located in Seattle, performed the surgery, which involved suturing the eyelid margins together that were left with a small defect at birth, explained the zoo’s Director of Animal Health, Dr. Darin Collins. The surgical procedure was the next step toward a progressive, more permanent solution to create a functional eyelid.
The cubs were born to 7-year-old mother Helen and 6-year-old father Tom. They remain off public exhibit with their mother and currently weigh between 14 and 16 pounds.
Due to their impaired vision, the cubs have been under veterinary care. “We are assessing their visual function on a day-to-day basis as they grow and explore their environment. It’s a positive sign that the cubs continue to interact and maneuver their environment, and are playful and inquisitive,” said Collins.
Over the next couple of weeks, the zoo’s animal management staff hopes to begin introducing the cubs to the public exhibit. “The cubs are physically challenged because of their impaired vision so we needed to make the exhibit sight-impaired cub friendly, such as cutting off tree branches at the eye level of the cubs, to ensure the cubs can navigate their surroundings safely without getting injured,” said Dr. Jennifer Pramuk, a curator at the zoo.
When the cubs are introduced to the exhibit, the zoo will announce an official debut to the public.
The father of the cubs was born with the same congenital eye defect. His first litter of two cubs in 2009 with the same mother was born without any health concerns or congenital diseases. “Snow leopards with colobomas can have healthy cubs and cubs with colobomas can have normal parents,” explained Collins.
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. 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. Visit www.snowleopard.org for information about the SLT.
For latest photos and video of the snow leopard cubs and to follow their story, go to http://bit.ly/snowleocubs. Visit www.zoo.org for information about Woodland Park Zoo.