She was known for her beautiful fur, elusive behaviour and wonderful longevity but the National Zoo & Aquarium have finally had to bid a sad goodbye to their sole remaining snow leopard, Sheva.
The beloved big cat passed away due to old age last month at the grand age of 19 and was thought to have been the oldest female snow leopard in captivity.
Despite zoo visitors normally preferring the animals they can see easily, Sheva was a big favourite with visitors regularly seeking her out and getting to know her favourite hiding places.
“Wow 19, that is a great innings… Though she still alludes me to getting a great photo… But I am patient,” commented one fan on the zoo’s Facebook page on October 20 last year when Sheva turned 19.
“My favourite animal and always our first and last stop when we visit the zoo,” commented another fan.
“The public love the snow leopard enclosure,” said senior carnivore keeper, Katie Ness, who has been involved in looking after Sheva for the past five years.
“She was a special animal.”
Ms Ness said that Sheva was quite “food-motivated” and “had a bit of spunk”.
“She was one of those animals where it was always very rewarding when she sort you out for affection.”
Sheva and her brother Bhutan were born at Mogo Zoo and came to the National Zoo & Aquarium together in 2002, with Bhutan passing away around 18 months ago.
Ms Ness said that Sheva was starting to have problems with arthritis and it was “definitely her time”.
“Nineteen is very old for a snow leopard to make it to,” said Ms Ness. “I was very excited that she made it to 19 because most people didn’t think she’d make it past 18.
“She was considerably older than the other females in captivity.”
Ms Ness said that snow leopards tend to live no longer than 10 to 13 years in the wild. She said they are classified as vulnerable and there are no more than 6,500 left, although the actual number could be as low as 3,900.
Ms Ness said the zoo didn’t have any current plans to get another snow leopard but didn’t rule it out for the future. The zoo will also continue to support the Snow Leopard Trust.
In the meantime, the snow leopard enclosure is being prepared for the arrival of new animals – whose identities are being kept under wraps.
“A brand new species is being pegged to go into that enclosure. It will be very exciting,” said Ms Ness.
Were you one of Sheva’s fans? What did you like about her? Let us know in the comments below.