Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo presents rehabbed snow leopard cubs

Two snow leopards cubs have recovered from “swimmer’s syndrome” and will be the focus of a...
Two snow leopards cubs have recovered from “swimmer’s syndrome” and will be the focus of a celebration Wednesday morning at the Henry Doorly Zoo.(Henry Doorly Zoo)
Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 8:58 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is celebrating the recovery of two snow leopards cubs in a livestream Wednesday morning.

Dr. Sarah Woodhouse, director of animal health at the zoo, will present the two cubs — one male and one female, born on Aug. 4 — via Zoom. The meeting was held over Zoom out of an abundance of caution because it is known that felines can contract COVID-19.

The cubs were sent to Omaha two months ago from Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Illinois for treatment of a congenital condition called “swimmer’s syndrome.” The disorder is more common in dogs than it is in cats.

This condition means the cubs’ back legs splay out in a split which makes it hard to hold themselves up and walk normally. The female cub had a worse condition than her brother did.

Both cubs had physical therapy three times a day, seven days a week, and can now walk and run normally.

According to Dr. Sarah Woodhouse, Director of Animal Health, physical therapy was very hands-on.

“As a zoo vet, we don’t have the opportunity to be very hands-on with our patients very often so this has definitely been one of my most enjoyable and adorable physical therapy treatments,” Dr. Woodhouse said.

First, each cub was fitted with hobbles on the back legs, which supports the legs and keeps them underneath the cub. They were also fitted with a dog harness to give them more mobility in their limbs. In addition to each of these techniques, the cubs got massages to ease some of the discomforts from the therapies.

“As they got older and stronger, we were able to discontinue the hobbles and the harness,” Dr. Woodhouse said. “And basically go to what we like to call play therapy. So basically we encourage them to run and jump and play with toys.”

Jay Tezloff, the zoo director at Miller Park Zoo, says he got his start at the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo 33 years ago. The Miller Park Zoo is much smaller and did not have the resources to take care of the cubs as they needed, so he reached out to Omaha zoo officials.

“This is what zoos do,” Tezloff said. “We come together and work on, with animals together for the greater good. This was something that was a tough decision for me and my staff to have them go somewhere else, but we know it was for the best interest of these two cubs.”

The cubs, which don’t have names and have grown exponentially since their arrival two months ago, are now both much stronger and able to walk easier.

The cubs primary caretaker was senior zookeeper was Darlene Klimek, affectionately nicknamed “Momma Dar.”

She said she is happy to see the cubs go on their way back home.

“We knew it was temporary when it started so, actually it’s been a real treat and one of those top things in my career to be able to do this and to be able to help them on their journey forward. They’re getting bigger, they’re getting tougher, it’s okay for them to go home now,” Klimek said with a laugh.

The two cubs are heading back to their home zoo today.

Watch Wednesday’s news conference

Snow leopards at Omaha zoo

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