The Oklahoma City Zoo has announced the passing of a 15-year-old female snow leopard, Kiara, on Friday, Dec. 29 at approximately 10:30 a.m.
Caretakers noticed Kiara developed a respiratory illness and decreased appetite. During a resulting exam, Zoo veterinary staff discovered end-stage heart and lung disease and made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Kiara. However, she passed before the medication could be administered.
The veterinary team will conduct a necropsy (animal autopsy) to determine exact cause of death.
Kiara came to the Zoo in 2006 from the Tulsa Zoo and resided in the Cat Forest habitat alongside snow leopards Tom, 11, and Milenka, 9. Caretakers remember her as cheeky, quirky and confident with an unusual (but adorable) habit of dipping the tip of her tail in water on warm days. Kiara loved to eat almost everything, especially rabbit and quail. She had four offspring.
The median life expectancy for snow leopards is 15.1 years. In the wild, snow leopards reside in remote, rugged, mountainous regions of Central Asia. The species can grow up to five feet, not including the two- to three-foot-long tail, and can weigh between 60 and 120 pounds. They use their long tails for balance and are able jump as far as 50 feet.
In 2017, the International Union for Conservation of Nature re-classified the snow leopard from endangered to vulnerable. However, with an estimated population of 4,000 in the wild, the species still faces a high risk of extinction due to poaching and habitat loss.
During her 11 years at the Zoo, Kiara educated millions of guests and was beloved by her caretakers.