TIGERS IN THE
A STORY FROM, THE FIELD
A Bengal Tiger in Nepal's Protected Area was found emaciated and dragging his hindlimbs. As a wildlife veterinarian, I accepted a request by the Park’s chief wildlife veterinary officer to help relieve his suffering, even though I knew that his prognosis was dismal. At the time, there was no sterile surgical facility to perform the procedures necessary to deal with this critically endangered animal’s wounds: no wildlife hospital, no veterinary support team, no equipment, not even oxygen for surgery. We went out to the field, performed surgery on a tablecloth, used oxygen obtained from a trekker and instruments and medical supplies bought from the local cancer hospital.
This scenario is not unique, countries around the world do not have the training, infrastructure or ability to treat, diagnose or prevent disease for any species, even our most endangered ones. Yet due to pressures from habitat encroachment, poaching, climate change, diseases that are shared, our most critically endangered wildlife need our help.
Performing surgery on this tiger was important not only to treat his condition but to provide a window into all the health issues that threaten the region’s tiger population. A tiger anesthetized for surgery (or management) is a valuable opportunity to collect diagnostic information regarding the health status of the individual animal and the population as a whole. Interestingly, your house cat and tigers share the same diseases and tigers are even more threatened by common dog diseases. Veterinary medicine has successfully managed these diseases in domestic and zoo animals with straightforward diagnostic evaluation, treatment, and sensible prevention strategies. We can apply proven veterinary medical techniques and methods to the field of conservation to increase the survival of our beloved tigers and big cats.
In Nepal, VIEW was able to give the emaciated tiger comfort, but sadly he was never able to be re-released into the wild. However, by taking small samples of blood while anesthetized, we were able to identify that this tiger and others in the region had been exposed to many diseases that they share with dogs, cats, cattle and even people. We shared this information with Nepalese officials and published a paper in an international journal and it has been instrumental in helping develop management practices for tiger conservation.