Photos: Donations desperately needed for leopard rescued from 'hell'

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A rescued African leopard that started life as a Las Vegas attraction before being sold to a private zoo in Douglas is getting a new lease on life at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, but they need your help to care for him. By Catherine Holland A rescued African leopard that started life as a Las Vegas attraction before being sold to a private zoo in Douglas is getting a new lease on life at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, but they need your help to care for him. By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A rescued African leopard that started life as a Las Vegas attraction before being sold to a private zoo in Douglas is getting a new lease on life at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, but they need your help to care for him.

When SWCC rescued Leonardo last year, he was hovering on the edge of death, suffering from pneumonia and malnutrition.

SWCC specializes in wildlife native to the Southwest so it would not normally work with an exotic animal like a leopard, but Linda Searles, the organization's executive director, said she knew SWCC had to do something for Leonardo.
(Video: Meet Leonardo)

"When it became possible to go in and save him, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to get him out of the hell he was living in," Searles said in an SWCC video.

Leonardo, who was bred specifically for the entertainment industry, has thrived in his relatively short time with SWCC.

"He's a changed cat," Searles said. "He's not the same cat that came to us, not the cat we picked up."

Although Leonardo, with his distinctive (and gorgeous) spotted coat, has beaten the pneumonia and gained weight over the past few months, he still suffers the effects of the abuse from his previous life.

When he was a cub, his owners declawed him and extracted his canine teeth to make him safer to work with as part of a Las Vegas attraction.

The removal of those teeth disfigured Leonardo's jaw so badly that he cannot chew or tear large pieces of meat like he should. SWCC staffers must cut up his food for him.

The declaw procedure has also left its indelible mark, one that now requires a surgical procedure. After staffers noticed Leonardo limping, the vet discovered one of his rear paws was infected. It's that infection that requires surgery.

In addition to that wound, Leonardo's paws were so damaged by the declawing that he cannot jump and climb, both of which are instinctual to leopards.

Life today is very different for Leonardo than it was just a year ago, when he was cooped up alone in a small cage with nothing to engage him.

Staffers say he seems to enjoy life now, describing him as "frisky." Not only does he keep active by playing with all sorts of toys, he has bonded with the people who rescued him and continue to care for him.

"It's so good to see an animal that spent such a horrible life -- literally in hell his whole life -- and now he's enjoying life for the first time," Searles said.

Plans are in the works for a new enclosure for Leonardo -- one with soft grass and shady trees -- but right now he has a small patch of grass to call his own.

“We're pretty sure he'd never seen grass before,” said Hillary Cummens of Southwest Wildlife. “Leonardo loves lying on the grass. He gets irritated when we water it because he has to move and his poor feet are so sore. We're raising funds to get his foot surgery and then we've promised him all the grass he wants in his new enclosure.”

While he certainly is the most exotic resident, Leonardo is not the only rescued animals to call SWCC home. The organization, in addition to its work rehabilitating and releasing injured, displaced and orphaned wildlife, operates a sanctuary and nature center in northeast Scottsdale. That facility provides a home for animals that cannot be released because of injuries -- like Leonardo -- or because they have become imprinted on or habituated to humans.

To find out more about SWCC and how you can help Leonardo, go to www.southwestwildlife.org.

Meet Leonardo

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