Rare disease claims lives of cheetah sisters at Maryland Zoo

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is coping with a devastating double blow. Its pair of cheetah sisters died within days of one another after suffering an irreversible liver disease.

“Our Zoo family is heartbroken today as we announce the loss of nine-year old cheetah siblings Tuli and Teep from veno-occlusive disease, a genetic, cheetah-specific liver disease,” the facility announced on Facebook last week.

Tuli and Teep arrived at the zoo in last July and veterinarians discovered the illness in December, treating them the best they could. Their treatments had been stepped up in the last few weeks, and the cheetahs had been responding to medications.

But Tuli died last week, and Teep, facing a challenging quality of life and poor prognosis, was euthanized, the zoo explained.

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“Various medical tests over the past couple of months led us to this specific diagnosis which is an infrequently seen disease in cheetahs, and very rarely reported in other animal species,” Ellen Bronson, the zoo’s head veterinarian said in a statement. “Veno-occlusive disease leads to slowly progressive loss of liver cells and scarring of veins throughout the liver. The disease cannot be reversed, so our treatment focused more on palliative care. Little is known about effective treatments for this disease in cheetahs, so we were in somewhat uncharted territory for developing a medical management plan.”

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Tuli and Teep were born at a zoo in Texas in 2006, and had lived in San Diego for two years before arriving in Baltimore last year. Despite being the world’s fastest land mammal, these two big cats were quite relaxed, the zoo said, adding they would often be found laying together in the sun.

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The disease isn’t often diagnosed in living cheetahs, and animals in the wild tend to “mask symptoms of illness” so they don’t appear vulnerable to attack, officials said.

“We are doubly sad to lose both cheetah within days of each other, but we hope that what we have learned from treating this disease and what we will learn from the necropsy can be used to help the cheetah population in the future,” Bronson added.

Cheetahs typically live 10 to 12 years in the wild, but in zoos they can live up to 17 years.

There are perhaps only 7,000 to 10,000 cheetahs led in the wild and they are considered vulnerable to extinction.

Photos Maryland Zoo in Baltimore/Facebook

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