Tulsa Zoo is mourning the loss of its elderly cheetah, Kuma, who died late last week. The 16-year-old cheetah began exhibiting signs of neuromuscular weakness, vision and hearing impairment, which are not uncommon ailments in geriatric cheetahs. Kuma was relocated to a smaller grassy area that was easier for him to negotiate considering his age and condition. His attitude and appetite were still very good and staff focused on ensuring his quality of life remained high.
Kuma began to exhibit signs of a degenerative central nervous system disorder late last week and zoo veterinary staff needed to examine Kuma further to see what could, if anything, be done to control his worsening seizure-like episodes. The decision was made to place him under routine anesthesia for an examination.
“The risk of anesthesia was taken into account, but for an animal such as Kuma who was having a medical crisis, the risk has to be taken to find out what may be wrong and if anything can be done to control it,” said Dr. Kay Backues, Tulsa Zoo Senior Veterinarian.
Kuma did not recover from routine anesthesia and his cause of death is thought to be from complications of the central nervous system disorder. The average life span for cheetahs in captivity is 10 years old, which made 16-year-old Kuma one of the oldest in the nation.
The population of cheetahs within the zoo community is small, making them difficult to obtain. The exhibit left vacant by the Kuma will undergo renovation for a new species of animal. The zoo has been working with the African wild dog Species Survival Plan to possibly acquire this highly endangered canine species to reside in the renovated exhibit. African wild dogs will be part of the Africa Savannah area identified by the zoo’s new master plan.
Kuma had been at the Tulsa Zoo since 1997.