Nearly a month after four large cats died at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) at Borivali, wildlife experts have suggested screening of food served to leopards, a quarantine facility, vaccination and enhanced training of veterinarians for maintaining better health of the captive animals. A team, comprising of Pradeep Malik from the Wildlife institute of India (WII) and AK Sharma from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), visited the national park.
After the third captive leopard, 13-year-old Nethra, and a captive lioness died at SGNP in two months, national park authorities had written to the Central Zoo Authority seeking expert help to investigate reasons for the deaths and to suggest measures.
The team said that the post mortem report of Nethra showed kidney damage, a potential effect of bacterial infection (leptospira sp). Analysis of the viscera sample sent by the national park of a currently sick leopard also showed signs of similar infection. “We have detected antibodies for the same bacterial infection in the leopards. There is no vaccine available for this infection in India. So, antibiotics are administered. The animals are generally infected after coming in contact with the urine of rodents infected with the bacteria. The disease also spreads through drinking water,” said Sharma, principal scientist and in-charge of Centre for Wife Conservation, Management & Disease Surveillance.
The bacteria affects the kidney and liver inducing jaundice and compromising the functioning of vital organs.
Due to lack of specific vaccines for carnivores in India, the leopards at SGNP had not been vaccinated for diseases the past three years, said Malik who heads the department of wildlife heath at WII.
The team, while saying facilities at SGNP were “satisfactory”, said there was no system in place for diagnostics as the zoo was just a small part of the national park. “Collaborations are required to enhance the training of the veterinarians handling the large cats. Specific training is lacking as veterinarians cannot be expected to deal with ‘exotic’ species like leopards or tigers with the basic training they get in Indian veterinary colleges,” said Malik. “They should interact with international vets to get specialised training to handle large cats. This issue is not limited to SGNP, but all rescue centres and zoos.”
The team has suggested better screening of food served to the leopards and a quarantine facility before getting a new leopard so that infections are not introduced among the 15 leopards left at the national park. The team suggested a separate unit for the keeper so that he could wash his hands, get into his uniform, and avoid carrying contamination to the leopards. The team appreciated the “nice environment and spacious enclosures”.