Zoo’s Snow Leopard Cub with Swimmers Syndrome Taking Steps Toward Rehabilitation

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SACRAMENTO -- A snow leopard cub at the Sacramento Zoo doesn’t even have a name yet but already he faces challenges.

"The swimmers syndrome is where the back legs kind of splay out behind him and he’s not keeping them underneath him in a normal position," said zookeeper Amanda Watters.

Born May 6 at the Sacramento Zoo, the cub is the son of resident snow leopard couple Misha and Blizzard. Misha had two cubs but only one survived.

As a result of his condition, he’s needed special physical therapy. His hind legs are strapped together to help align them as he builds muscle.

Sometimes he walks between a narrow passageway, which Watters says is just "wide enough for his feet to stay directly under him." Slings were also used to lift his hind legs up.

"We would just assist him gently," Watters said. "Not lifting him up off the ground, but just assisting, taking a little bit of the weight off."

Because of competition with people for food and habitat, snow leopards are a threatened species, so they are important to zoos. One day, if things do not turn around for the reclusive cats, the captive population could be used to bolster the native one.

Until then, they are here to educate and inspire people -- and it’s working.

"They’re strong and they’re smart," said Sacramento resident Alvin Egbai. "And their cubs are really important to them, so they're actually really caring."

Misha is doing most of the mothering and she is dedicated. But at the zoo, the little cub has a staff of parents helping him and hoping his future is bright.

"It is like having a child," Watters said. "It’s like having a little toddler that gets into everything and is a little troublemaker.”

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