CLEVELAND– The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo welcomed FOX 8 News on Monday for a behind-the-scenes look.
From special diets and routine checkups to rescues and conservation, the veterinarians and keepers showed us how they care for some of these animals on a regular basis.
In September 2015, Onion was rescued off the coast of Cape Cod. The National Marine Life Center took in the young harbor seal and rehabilitated him. But because of infections, he lost his sight in one eye and couldn't be released back into the wild.
Now he's thriving at the seal and sea lion exhibit at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where he's an active participant in his own health care. Onion is trained for X-rays, injections, blood draws and eye drops.
"Three of the animals that we have here in the seal and sea lion habitat were rescued from the wild. We partner with different organizations centers and animals that are not able to be released into the wild, we are able to give them a forever home here in Cleveland," said Mike Murray, associate curator of animals.
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo frequently works with other zoos and wildlife centers on conservation. Curator of animals Travis Vineyard is the species survival coordinator for sloth bears in North America.
The 300-pound sloth bears are known for their big muzzles, which they use to blow and vacuum termite mounds. They are native to India and endangered.
There are only about 35 of these bears on our continent and about 40 in Europe.
Vineyard said he carefully coordinates breeding recommendations for sloth bears. He knows which ones are related and studies medical conditions, like liver and gallbladder cancers.
Over at the Australian Adventure, keepers attend to a pair of picky eaters: koalas. They only eat eucalyptus so the zoo gets two shipments a week from Arizona and Florida for a total of 300 pounds.
That diet gets expensive. Lead koalas keeper Sam Bowman said the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo spends about $50,000 a year on eucalyptus. That's why many zoos can't afford to have koalas. Their limited diet also means they need a lot of sleep: 18 hours a day.
Despite commonly calling them "koala bears," they aren't bears. They are actually marsupials like creatures in the Australian Adventure part of the zoo, including kangaroos and wallabies.
Our last stop of the day was a big one. A big cat needed her yearly exam.
Sameera is a 1-year-old snow leopard. She was sedated while a team of veterinarians efficiently worked to clean her teeth, take her temperature, draw blood, check her heart rate and trim her nails.
Snow leopards are found in the Himalayas and there are about 3,500 left in the wild.
Veterinarian Dr. Mike Selig said Sameera is an ambassador for her species and helps show how amazing these animals are.
"Being able to see an animal up close is really meaningful and a lot of people that are currently helping snow leopards wouldn't know about snow leopards if there weren't zoos around," Selig said.
Several visitors to the Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo even got to watch Sameera's exam.