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We’re celebrating World Veterinary Day

April 27, 2024

Snow leopard resting on rock at Marwell Zoo

We’re celebrating World Veterinary Day by shining a spotlight on our amazing vets and vet nurses and the work they do to ensure animals get great care throughout their life at the zoo.

As a leading conservation charity, we have always been committed to providing exceptional care for animals.

With an in-house veterinary team dedicated to their wellbeing, we’re able to ensure that our senior residents receive the specialized attention they need as they get older.

Our carnivore team recently noticed that Irina, a 15-year-old snow leopard, was experiencing difficulties grooming herself properly. Concerned about her condition, they promptly called in the veterinary team for a thorough examination.

The team discovered matted areas of fur at the base of Irina’s tail, which she was unable to clean due to joint pain caused by arthritis.

During her geriatric check-up, Irina’s limbs were carefully assessed, confirming the presence of arthritis in both hind legs and both wrists.

Although not yet at a serious stage, the condition needs to be checked regularly to manage discomfort.

Additionally, the veterinary team conducted a heart check, including a heart scan or “echocardiogram”, as she had a low-grade heart murmur. They diagnosed Irina with age-related mitral valve disease, a condition caused by the valve between the heart chambers failing to close properly.

Fortunately for Irina, the condition is not severe and isn’t currently causing her any problems.

Regular welfare monitoring and increased pain relief have been incorporated into Irina’s updated treatment plan, resulting in significant improvements.

Dani Free, Animal Behaviourist, said: “We have adapted our animal welfare assessment tool (the animal welfare assessment grid or AWAG) to include specific factors that could be age-related, for example, assessing coat condition and signs of lameness.

“This will allow us to better track how her welfare changes over time so that we can intervene with veterinary care if there are any signs of deterioration.”   

Further examination through x-rays revealed the presence of small bone fragments in Irina’s knees, known as “joint mice,” which are common in animals that have developed arthritis.

With the implementation of the enhanced treatment plan, Irina’s joint pain has significantly reduced, allowing her to groom herself properly once again.

Dr Elysé Summerfield-Smith, Zoo Veterinarian, said: “The matted areas of fur that were previously inaccessible due to discomfort have now disappeared, so we know she’s now able to clean herself properly again and reach the areas that were causing her problems.

“As an organisation, Marwell recognizes the importance of providing additional care and attention to more senior animals to ensure their continued well-being and quality of life is maintained.”

Snow leopards are currently listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, so Irina has played a very important role in the conservation of her species.

During her lifetime she has given birth to six cubs. In turn, they have had 15 cubs of their own, one of which also has a cub.

These animals are all critical to ensuring that if their species ever faces extinction, there is a genetically diverse captive population for reintroductions.