SEATTLE ‒ Woodland Park Zoo’s 10-week-old, female snow leopard cubs received cardiac ultrasounds last week as a precautionary measure and as part of the special medical care the cubs are receiving.
The snow leopards, named Shanti and Asha, were born May 2 to 7-year-old mother Helen and 6-year-old father Tom. They remain off exhibit to the public and currently weigh between 8 and 9 pounds.
The cardiac ultrasounds were performed by the zoo’s volunteer veterinary cardiologist , Dr. Jerry Woodfield of Northwest Cardiology Consultants in Seattle. Findings reveal mild functional deficiencies in several valves in the female cubs.
“The good news is that the heart function does not appear to be compromised and there are no health concerns at this time related to the heart,” said Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s Director of Animal Health.
In June, the male littermate was euthanized because he had been born with multiple severe heart defects that were causing early heart failure.
All three cubs were born with eye and eyelid defects, known as multiple ocular coloboma. According to Collins, both of the surviving cubs have impaired vision and are under close observation. Additionally, they continue to receive eye examinations by Dr. Tom Sullivan, the zoo’s volunteer veterinary ophthalmologist with the Animal Eye Clinic in Seattle, who performed the first of multiple minor procedures to the eyelids last month.
“The overall health of the cubs appears stable but their long-term prognosis remains guarded, particularly their visual capabilities,” noted Collins.
The cubs are still nursing and have recently begun eating solid foods ‒ a diet of raw meat and a commercially-prepared carnivore diet. To watch the first video capture of the cubs, visit
“They are eating well but their motor skills are not at a level where they should be at this age, and growth development is a bit lagging,” explained Dr. Jennifer Pramuk, a curator at the zoo. Because of their special needs, the zoo cannot determine when the cubs will go on public exhibit. “They are venturing out of the maternal den into the outdoor holding enclosure but they will require a longer period of time to develop motor skills and adjust to the spacious surroundings in the public exhibit before zoo-goers can see them.”
The father was born with the same congenital eye defect. His first litter of two cubs with the same mother was born healthy and normal. The coloboma condition has been seen in snow leopards at other zoos. The cause of coloboma remains unknown. Zoo staff will be attending a national meeting of zoo professionals next week in Utah to discuss the disease impacts on the overall population of this endangered species.
Since snow leopards are solitary animals in the wild, the father has been separated and is on public view in the snow leopard exhibit adjacent to Australasia.
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, the namesake of the mother of the newborn cubs. 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 http://www.snowleopard.org/ for information about the SLT.
For more photos of the cubs, visit the zoo’s blog at: http://bit.ly/PTfXWv.
For more information about Woodland Park Zoo and its conservation projects, visit www.zoo.org.