LAHORE, April 19: After killing scores of white and brown tigers in India and Bangladesh during the last few months, a blood parasite has arrived in Pakistan claiming the lives of two big cats at the Lahore Zoo on Wednesday.
Survival chances of the three remaining tigers — a white pair and one brown female — are also said to be bleak as they are also suffering from the deadly disease Trypanosoma.
Victims of the disease are six-year-old white tiger called Charles and eight-year-old brown tiger Michael. Last week, a brown cub also died of the same disease. Several tigers at the Lahore Zoo also died when the disease first hit Pakistan about a decade ago.
Experts have cautioned the government to take precautionary measures in country’s other zoos to protect the big cats from the disease.
At present, two and four each brown tigers are in Bahawalpur, Karachi and Raiwind zoos, respectively, and one white beast in Rawalpindi.
The eight-member team, headed by Prof Dr Khalid Pervaiz of the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, constituted to investigate the matter has already confirmed the disease after examining the affected tigers’ blood.
Zoo director Mohammad Yousaf Pal told Dawn that the big cats were on medication (fabribina) and supportive vitamins were given to them but they could not survive.
The amount of the dose had been doubled for the remaining ones following the incident, he said, hoping against hope for their survival. He said the bodies of tigers would be preserved after autopsy.
According to a study, a tiger contracts this disease owing to the bite of a green fly or mosquito. The zoo authorities have quarantined the remaining tigers to stop flies from entering.
Visitors unaware of the development were seen arguing with the guards to lift the net covering of tigers’ cages, but to no avail. “People, especially children, come here to see the tigers. We are disappointed,” a visitor said while speaking to this reporter.
A report on the deaths of the big cats in South Asia says the parasite originated in sub-Sahara Africa where it was spread by tsetse flies. It has been eradicated in Africa and recently reappeared in South Asia.
The report says it is a curable disease provided it is diagnosed at the early stages. In Dhaka, there is a question mark on the death of medicine-administered tigers. It points out that the death of tigers occurred due to lack of proper drugs and equipment, inadequately trained staff, lack of proper care of animals, and small amounts of funds available for medicines or emergency care.
The Lahore Zoo management, however, claimed that none of such factors is the cause of death of the big cats. Surprisingly, the experts are not sure as to how the disease is transmitted into the beasts.
White tigers, an endangered breed of tigers called Bengal tigers, are on the red data list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). According to WWF officials, only about 81 Bengal tigers are left in the world, but are not being properly taken care of.