TIGERS IN THE
A STORY FROM, THE FIELD
Told by Dr. Deborah McCauley
A Bengal Tiger in Chitwan National Park, Nepal was found emaciated and dragging his hindlimbs. His legs and feet were so severely affected that his toes were sloughing off. I accepted a request by the Park’s head wildlife veterinarian to help relieve his suffering, even though I knew that his prognosis was dismal. 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.
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 susceptible to some common dog diseases. Veterinary medicine has successfully managed these diseases in domestic animals with straightforward diagnostic evaluation, treatment, and sensible prevention strategies. We can apply proven veterinary medicine 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 he was never able to be re-released into the wild as other big cats we’ve helped in past. His blood, and other biological samples, along with that of 11 more tigers, confirmed that tigers in the region have been exposed to many diseases that they share with dogs, cats, and even people. We shared this information with Nepalese officials and it has been instrumental in helping develop management practices for tiger conservation.