Rilu the snow leopard, a big cat at the Miller Park Zoo in Illinois, has died from COVID-19 complications. The 11-year-old leopard tested positive for COVID on Dec. 3 alongside three other big cats at the zoo. After struggling for over a month, the endangered cat was pronounced dead in an official announcement on Thursday.
Rilu was not just any snow leopard but a celebrated cat whose photos were once projected on the New York’s Empire State Building to raise awareness about endangered animals. Joel Sartore, a wildlife photographer who took the images of Rilu that were projected on the building in 2015, says that snow leopards should be protected by those who work in their environment.
“Snow leopards are proving extremely susceptible to the disease, and it’s often fatal. If you haven’t received a vaccination and booster yet, please do so. It’s more than just human lives that are at stake,” Sartore wrote in a post.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the spotted mountain cat has a population of a few thousand. The animals face possible extinction, though they often enjoy a long lifespan in zoos. The snow leopards usually live up to 22 years in protected environments, a situation being threatened by COVID-19.
Rilu is not the first snow leopard to test positive for COVID or succumb to the virus. Three other snow leopards died from COVID-19 related complications at a Nebraska zoo in November. Their deaths also came about a month after the animals tested positive for the virus.
“Rilu’s personality and beauty will be missed by guests and staff, but he will not be forgotten,” Miller Park Zoo said in an Instagram post.
According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, humans can infect cats with COVID-19. It is also possible for cats to spread the coronavirus to other animals. Even so, the likelihood of animals spreading the virus to humans is low. It is, therefore, the responsibility of those who interact with wild animals to protect them from infections.
The other cats that tested positive alongside Rilu continue to show mild symptoms, according to a zoo representative.
Lead image via Pixabay