Sioux Falls Zoo Says Covid May Have Killed Snow Leopard

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Officials at a Sioux Falls zoo say COVID-19 may have killed one of their snow leopards.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported Wednesday that the animal, named Baya, died at the Great Plains Zoo on Thursday of a respiratory illness that might have been COVID-19. Test results are pending.

The snow leopard began coughing on Oct. 3. By Oct. 4 she was acting lethargic and wouldn’t eat. Zoo veterinarians gave Baya antibiotics on Thursday but she was in critical condition later in the day.

Baya was two-and-a-half years old and had been at the zoo since early 2021. Zoo officials had hoped she would mate with another snow leopard named Strut.

Zoo officials said Monday that a tiger at the zoo tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 6, the day before Baya died. Five other big cats at the zoo have shown COVID-19 symptoms, including Strut. Most of the animals have been on antibiotics and are improving, said Matt Eschenbrenner, the zoo's director of animal care and conservation.

He said the zoo hopes to bring in another snow leopard to replace Baya but it's unclear when that animal might arrive.

“We can’t even think about bringing in another animal until we know everything has passed and our animals are healthy, 100%,” Eschenbrenner said.