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A snow leopard at Miller Park Zoo dies from COVID-induced pneumonia

Snow leopard... at the Miller Park Zoo. Keeper for the snow leopard was Carol Paglucia. Zoo curator helping today was Jonathan Reding. Others helping today were Erik Heinonen (bobcat, trogon, gennet and squirrel), Matt Gerbatsch (tree shrew and guan, squirrel), Jeanne Lust (gennet and squirrel and tree shrew) and Rebecca 'Becca' Van Beek.
Joel Sartore
Joel Sartore
Rilu the snow leopard.

Before he died, Rilu the snow leopard had his picture shown worldwide like a movie star, once even appearing on the Empire State Building. He was part of a photographic collection in a book, The Photo Ark, his picture shot by National Geographic contributor Joel Sartore.

He lived at Oklahoma City Zoo until 2011, when he came to Miller Park Zoo. By fathering seven cubs, he brought the city zoo acclaim — or as a City of Bloomington press release said, "made (the) Zoo one of the leading institutions in the world in producing snow leopard cubs."

More recently, he also caught COVID-19.

On Thursday, city officials announced that Rilu had died after a weeks-long struggle with COVID-induced pneumonia. The big cat was 11 years old.

"I love that the legacy of Rilu will live on in The Photo Ark," Zoo superintendent Jay Tetzloff said in a statement. "Rilu will engage and astonish the world for many years to come."

The news came one day after the Katthoefer Animal Building again closed to the public as the large cats there continued to show signs of the virus. The building had been closed once already, after cats started showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 in late November; it reopened to the public on Dec. 22 before closing "indefinitely" on Wednesday.

Tetzloff said the closure is a short-term precaution, adding that staff are hoping to eventually have the zoo's carnivores and primates vaccinated.

He said logistical challenges have made that difficult; initially, staff members were monitoring the results of other zoos' vaccinations, which Tetzloff said have "generally been positive."

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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