A cheetah that died at Wellington Zoo suffered severe brain damage and went into cardiac arrest after reacting badly to an anaesthetic, an autopsy has revealed.
Five-year-old cheetah Shomari died on May 28 after travelling with his brother Cango from Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch to the capital's zoo.
Both organisations released the results of Shomari's autopsy today, which detailed his severe reaction to drugs administered before and after the transfer.
Before embarking on their trip, both cheetahs were was given a general anaesthetic to move them into crates.
Once inside, the drug was reversed but Shomari began having periodic seizures, which stopped after an hour.
The cheetah was given another sedative at this point, which further improved his condition.
Once heavily sedated, Orana staff had no concerns for Shomari and decided to continue with the transfer to Wellington.
On arrival at Wellington Zoo Shomari was still heavily sedated and only partially rousable. He was removed from the crate and given IV fluids.
The zoo consulted a registered specialist veterinary anaesthetist from Massey University and gave Shomari a drug to reverse the effects of the sedative used earlier in the day.
The treatment was successful, but caused Shomari's seizures to return.
He was given more medication but went into respiratory arrest, which forced zoo staff to place a tube down Shomari's throat so they could aid his breathing artificially.
Another short-acting general anaesthetic was administered to relax Shomari's jaw muscles, which had clamped shut because of the seizures.
Shomari was artificially ventilated for about 90 minutes but his condition continued to worsen. He began showing signs of reduced brain activity and his blink reflex disappeared.
This indicated very severe, irreversible brain damage, most likely brain death.
At 10.26pm that night Shomari went into cardiac arrest. Given the likelihood of brain death and the cheetah's slim chances of recovery, no attempt was made to revive him with CPR.
The autopsy revealed microscopic changes to Shomari's brain, liver, and kidneys that were consistent with prolonged seizures and a lack of oxygen.
There was also damage to the cheetah's muscle.
Both zoo teams said they were devastated by Shomari's tragic death.
Cango has since been joined by his brother Kunjuka and both cats are doing well.
- The Dominion Post