15-year-old leopardess who had been suffering from leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread by rodents, died early on Thursday morning at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). This is the fourth death of a leopard in the last three months at the park.
Poman, named after a village in Vasai, had been sick for the past three and a half months. When she stopped eating, worried SGNP officials sent her blood samples to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI). The samples tested positive for the bacteria a few weeks ago.
“Poman was rescued from a well in 2006 and brought to SGNP. She was blind in her left eye. After she was found to have contracted the infection, we immediately started treatment. She started responding, and even started eating again. But on Tuesday, her condition started deteriorating,” said Shailesh Deore, superintendent of the lion and tiger safari. As per the advice of the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), Poman had also been quarantined.
Poman is the fourth leopard and the fifth big cat to have died in the past three months. The simultaneous deaths have raised questions about the hygiene and sanitation of the leopard rescue centre, which now has just 14 cats left, five of which are above 15 years of age.
The cause of Poman’s death will be clear after her post-mortem reports are released. However, Dr Pinjarkar, SGNP’s veterinary officer, said the main cause of her death was old age. “When she was sick, we did everything to restore her health. She had recovered. But her immune system had weakened over the years,” he said.
Dr AK Sharma, IVRI’s principal scientist, spoke about the severity of an infection like leptospirosis. “The longer it affects the animal, the worst it gets. When we got Poman’s samples, we detected leptospirosis, but we can’ tell how long she had been suffering from the infection. It affects vital organs, which start shutting down. It can definitely cause death, depending on the severity of the infection, because the animal loses the strength to fight the disease,” he said. While the samples had tested negative for canine distemper, Dr Sharma said these tests are not always accurate.
Meanwhile, the park has stepped up measures to make the rescue centre ‘rat-proof’. “We have installed a mesh around the enclosures to prevent rats from entering, and ensuring better sanitation. The water they drink is changed every day,” said Vikas Gupta, director, SGNP.
“We are ensuring that the staff wear gloves and gum boots. The meat that the leopards eat comes from the Deonar slaughterhouse and is lab-tested every 2-3 months,” said Deore.