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The Veterinary Teaching Hospital was abuzz recently when a young snow leopard from Roanoke's Mill Mountain Zoo arrived as a patient.
Bali, a nine-month-old male, was having a problem with his right eye and came to Blacksburg for diagnosis and possible surgery.
Bali was examined by Dr. Ian Herring, associate professor of ophthalmology, and Dr. Karen Brantman, a third-year ophthalmology resident. They determined that Bali's right upper eyelid had previously suffered a laceration. Although the wound was completely healed, the eyelid margin remained significantly disrupted, reducing protection to the eye and allowing hair to contact the cornea.
As you might expect, sedating a wild animal is not your typical run-of-the-mill anesthesia procedure. After arriving at the hospital, Bali was sedated in his crate by Dr. Natalia Henao-Guerrero and Dr. Maria Killos, both assistant professors of anesthesiology. The two pumped a gas mixture into Bali's enclosed crate using a special wand, until he lost consciousness and could safely be handled.
Once Bali was removed from his crate, Dr. Henao-Guerrero and Dr. Noah Pavlisko, a second-year anesthesia resident, secured his airway and closely monitored the big cat while he was being examined, throughout his surgery, and post-surgery when he was slowly brought out of anesthesia.
Bali's treatment was a real team effort. In addition to faculty, veterinary technicians, and residents, students also played a major role. Fourth-year veterinary student Heather Tomaszewski was lucky enough to be on anesthesia rotation and took the lead in establishing an intravenous access and monitoring his vital signs throughout surgery, and during recovery.
The surgery itself was a relatively straightforward procedure, according to Herring, and involved removing some of the eyelid scar tissue and suturing the eyelid back together to restore a functional eyelid margin. Dr. Brantman performed the surgery with assistance from Jessica Wootton, a fourth-year veterinary student.
Students were able to observe much of Bali's visit and treatment. The snow leopard is expected to make a full recovery within a few weeks and has an excellent prognosis, Dr. Herring said.
This is not the first time that Mill Mountain Zoo has entrusted one of its animals to the veterinary hospital. "It's great that we are so close and can work together," said Ray-Eric Correia, executive director of the zoo. "It's a win-win for all of us."
Mill Mountain Zoo serves as a community resource with 175 exotic animals and 89 different species. "We also house 21 at-risk or endangered animal species, such as the snow leopard," Correia noted.
Because the zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, they are allowed to work with endangered species. They have birthed at least four snow leopards on site. Bali, however, was born at a New Jersey zoo.
Snow leopards are typically found in the mountains of Central Asia. They can weigh anywhere from 60-120 pounds and can kill animals three times their weight. The snow leopard's population has declined 20 percent in the past 16 years due to poaching and persecution, as well as loss of habitat and prey. It is estimated that their global population stands between 4,000-6,500. As such, the snow leopard is on the endangered list.
To learn more about Mill Mountain Zoo and its missions related to education, recreation, and conservation, visit www.mmzoo.org.
View more photos from Bali's visit to the teaching hospital in our Facebook photo gallery.