SEATTLE ‒ Woodland Park Zoo over the weekend said goodbye to one of its most beautiful conservation ambassadors, a 19-year-old snow leopard named Nadia. The female cat was humanely euthanized due to age-related decline in health.
The life expectancy for snow leopards in zoos is 17 to 19 years old. Sufficient data are not available for how long the large cats live in the wild.
Nadia graced Woodland Park Zoo with her majestic presence since she arrived in 1996 on a breeding loan from Jackson Zoo in Jackson, Miss. She gave birth in 2000 to a litter of three cubs. A 7-year-old female and 6-year-old male snow leopard remain at the zoo and live in the Australasia exhibit.
The geriatric snow leopard had been living with chronic kidney disease since 2009, a typical ailment of elderly cats. Her activity level and appetite had declined over the last several months and markedly during the past week. As part of the zoo’s exemplary animal care program, zookeepers and animal health staff were vigilantly monitoring her health. “Our keeper staff gave her extra TLC and kept her as comfortable as possible during her final days,” noted Dr. Jennifer Pramuk, a curator at the zoo. “Zookeepers develop a strong bond with the animals and it’s always difficult to lose an animal in their care. Nadia was a very gentle cat and will be deeply missed by the keepers and by our volunteers and guests as well.”
A necropsy (animal autopsy) was performed, a routine procedure for animal deaths at the zoo. According to the zoo’s Director of Animal Health, Dr. Darin Collins, preliminary necropsy results revealed advanced age-related kidney failure.
Woodland Park Zoo has a long history of caring for snow leopards and conserving them in the wild, since the zoo’s first snow leopards arrived in 1972 from the USSR. As part of the zoo’s partnership with field conservation projects around the world, the zoo partners with the Seattle-based Snow Leopard Trust (SLT). 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 magnificent cats and improving the lives of people who live in the snow leopard’s range countries of Central Asia.
Nadia played a lead role in testing trap cameras and radio collars for the SLT’s field research to better understand the needs of the cats and how to better protect them.
The endangered snow leopard 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. Demand on the black market for their beautiful spotted coat is one of the main reasons for its fragile population status.
Under the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP), 28 cubs have been born at Woodland Park Zoo and transferred to zoos worldwide to help diversify the genetic pool of the managed population. The zoo participates in 72 SSPs sponsored by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Led by experts in husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, behavior, conservation and genetics, AZA-accredited institutions manage each species as one population in North America to maximize genetic diversity, with the goal of ensuring the long-term survival of the population and the health of individual animals. SSPs also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.