KARACHI: Zoo death toll mounts

08 Dec 2007


KARACHI, Dec 7: The death toll at the Karachi Zoo continues to rise since over the past ten days, the facility has lost a Bengal tiger, two blue bulls, a black buck, a red deer and a jackal, sources informed Dawn. The zoo administration confirmed all the deaths except that of the jackal and one of the blue bulls, and attributed at least some of the deaths to a blood parasite.

The Bengal tiger, a female brought from Holland over 11 years ago, was called Shateela and had reportedly been ill for some time. She died on Sunday, the same day that sources said saw the deaths of the jackal and the black buck. Two blue bulls and a red deer died last week.

Over the past two months, the Karachi Zoo also lost 12 spotted deer to an unknown disease.

Shateela was the fifth of the zoo’s big cats to die within two years, during which the facility also lost another female Bengal tiger (killed by male Bengal tigers), a male leopard and a pair of pumas. Three of these deaths took place in 2007 alone. Meanwhile, there has been no birth amongst the big cats for many years.

The latest Bengal tiger’s death is, in particular, a great loss for the zoo since the two male Bengal tigers are now left without a mate. This is a highly-threatened species across the world and there are few chances of the zoo being able to induct new animals any time soon because of cumbersome import procedures and bureaucratic delays. The zoo still awaits a replacement of the female elephant Anarkali, who died some two years ago.

When Dawn contacted Mansoor Qazi, who is in charge of the zoo, he admitted that Shateela and some other animals had died recently but rejected any possibility of an epidemic that was decimating the zoo’s numbers.

“A couple of deaths did take place and that was because of the delay in the diagnosis of the disease affecting different animals,” he said. “The blood samples of the affected animals were mistakenly tested for human infections, and that delayed the whole process.” Mr Qazi explained that “I investigated the matter and started treatment only when we came to know later that a blood parasite, trypanosomiasis, had infected some of the animals, including some spotted deer, a blue bull, a red deer and a female Bengal tiger. By then, unfortunately, some animals had already died,” he said, maintaining that “all the animals are safe now and the situation is under control.”

After the diagnosis, the zoo staff took blood samples of all the animals housed in the vicinity of the affected ones, and provided treatment to those who needed it. “This was necessary because the parasite could easily be transmitted by mosquitoes and flies,” said Mr Qazi, “yet if an unaffected animal was given the parasite-specific treatment, it could cause serious side effects.” The zoo-keeper added that the blood parasite may have been transmitted to the zoo from the meat of the hundreds of sick cattle that recently died in Landhi’s livestock market, since those deaths could have been caused by such an infection.

Referring to the Bengal tiger, Shateela, Mr Qazi claimed that she had only been ill for one day. “The tiger was 17 years old and she had nearly completed her life span in captivity,” he said, adding that the same parasite killed eight tigers in Lahore last year, and a hundred in India and six in Sri Lanka this year. He claimed, however, that the Karachi Zoo had enough resources and expertise to deal with any health problem.

Referring to the problem of finding a mate for the two male tigers still housed at the zoo, Mr Qazi said that the animal would be brought in from abroad since there were “certain risks involved in animals born through in-breeding,” He said that the Bengal tigers in other zoos were mainly conceived in this manner.

About the status of Bengal tigers in the world, Tahir Qureshi of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Karachi office said that their populations were mainly concentrated in India and Bangladesh, both of which had around 600 animals according to the IUCN list compiled in 2000. “The current data won’t be too different since I went to both countries some years ago and saw the conditions they were working in,” he said. He added that all types of tigers were threatened across the world and their numbers were declining fast due to poaching and changes in habitat caused by natural and man-made factors.