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Endangered snow leopard dies at Great Plains Zoo, COVID suspected

A respiratory illness has struck other big cats at the zoo as well.
Baya at Great Plains Zoo

One of the big cats at South Dakota's Great Plains Zoo has died following a "rapid" onset of respiratory illness.

Baya, who was 2.5 years old, came to the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History (GPZ) — located in Sioux Falls — earlier this year. She had come from the Akron Zoo as part of a breeding program. 

According to a news release, Baya died this week, four days after she started exhibiting signs of a cough as well as lethargy and loss of appetite. 

The zoo says her symptoms were consistent with those currently being seen in other big cats in GPZ’s feline complex. The day before Baya's death, one of the facility's Amur tigers, Keesa, tested positive for COVID-19 — which has struck big cats at zoos around the country. 

On Thursday, October 7, Baya experienced "a rapid decline of respiratory function" and was given "broad-spectrum antibiotics and other supportive care." The zoo says it assembled a team to provide 24-hour care to the snow leopard.

"Unfortunately, despite the staff’s best efforts, Baya passed away on the evening of October 7," GPZ says.

A necropsy will be performed on her body to determine exact cause of death. 

The male snow leopard she was paired with, Strut, is currently being treated for "minor symptoms." The zoo describes his condition as stable.

Per the release, Baya's zookeepers "describe her as playful and sweet and say it was an honor to care for her."

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