Coconut the Snow Leopard Recovers From Eyelid Surgery

Cub at Sacramento Zoo Had Rare Surgery to Correct Eyelid Defect

Coconut, the snow leopard cub born at the Sacramento Zoo earlier this year, underwent a rare eyelid surgery on Wednesday, October 24.. UC Davis veterinary specialists and the Sacramento Zoo veterinary team collaborated to correct a congenital eyelid defect known as coloboma. This ocular deformity is sometimes documented in snow leopards under human care. Coconut was also born with other birth defects that impact his mobility.

The eyelid surgery has been a possibility since UC Davis and Sacramento Zoo veterinarians first examined the young cub. After months of regular monitoring by Sacramento Zoo care staff, as well as daily eye drops and periodic examinations by UC Davis specialists, the two teams decided in late September to proceed with the eyelid surgery.

"If you don't do any type of corrections for these animals, they will develop recurrent irritation," said UC Davis Veterinary Ophthalmologist Brian Leonard. "Then you can have a much more severe scenario."

Two women veterinarians do eyelid surgery on snow leopard cub at Sacramento Zoo
From left, fourth year UC Davis veterinary student Alyssa Capuano and Sacramento Zoo Veterinarian and UC Davis Associate Professor Jenessa Gjeltema care for Coconut, a snow leopard at the Sacramento Zoo. The team also gave Coconut a full physical exam, took radiographs, drew blood for analysis and provided vaccines. (Don Preisler/UCDavis)

Since his birth, the zoo’s animal care team has been working with Coconut to help treat his physical deformities. Their consistent care, therapy, training and socialization have all prepared Coconut for this or any other potential surgery, and for a successful recovery in the future.

On Wednesday, animal care staff anesthetized Coconut at the Sacramento Zoo for an ophthalmic evaluation and the surgery. Denis Marcellin-Little, an orthopedic specialist from UC Davis, also performed an evaluation to assess the cub’s muscles and bones related to his developmental abnormality commonly referred to as “swimmer’s syndrome.”

Surgery took place at the zoo’s Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital and was open to the public via the viewing window at the hospital.

Veterinary ophthalmologists used cryotherapy to freeze Coconut’s eyelid hair follicles to keep them from growing into the eye and causing damage. The young cat will be off exhibit for at least two weeks to allow him proper time to recover and heal.

Media Resources

Trina Wood, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 530-752-5257,

Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-750-9195,

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