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The BBC's Jill McGivering
"An investigation has been launched"
 real 28k

Orissa minister Debi Prasad Misra
"The tigers are not responding to antibiotics"
 real 28k

Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Inquiry into tiger deaths
White Tiger
Nandankanan had 32 white tigers before these deaths
Wildlife experts in India have launched an investigation into the deaths of 12 tigers in a zoo in the eastern state of Orissa.

The tigers are thought to have contracted sleeping sickness, or trypanosomysis, an illness spread by forest flies.

Dead Tigers
Tigers were suffering from sleeping sickness
The crisis at the Nandankanan Zoo in the state capital Bhubaneswar - began last week, when a tiger named Debashish died of the disease.

Though veterinarians administered antibiotics to some of the zoo's other tigers, nine of them have died since Monday.

Nandankanan housed 56 Royal Bengal tigers, including 32 rare white tigers, before these deaths.

Negligent officials

A five-member team that conducted post-mortems on the dead tigers have blamed Nandankanan officials of negligence.

"The tigers have died of a common parasitical infection called trypanosomysis," one of the team members, Professor AT Rao, told AFP.

"The zoo-keepers should have observed the classical symptoms and started medication a week ago," he said.

Most Indian tigers are found in the wild
Dr BK Das, a veterinary surgeon at the Nandankanan Zoo, admitted that the disease was curable but said it was difficult to find out if the tigers were sick.

Wildlife experts have told the BBC that the drug used to cure trypanosomysis is highly toxic and difficult to administer.

So there is a possibility that it was incorrect dosage which proved fatal.

Zoo conditions

The complete facts will not emerge until the investigation is completed, but the deaths have raised concerns about the conditions in India's zoos.

Some wildlife campaigners say there is a lack of expertise in many zoos because of poor pay, which makes it difficult to attract good staff.

Other experts say lessons should be learned from these deaths about crisis management in zoos, and the need for better strategies to cope with outbreaks of disease.

Fifty years ago, India had about 40,000 tigers in the wild. Now, the population has fallen to about 4000, many of them in national parks and sanctuaries.

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See also:

05 Jul 00 | South Asia
Mystery illness kills nine tigers
20 Sep 99 | South Asia
Tiger disease claims another victim
02 May 99 | South Asia
Tiger conference call
02 May 99 | World
Mission to save the tiger
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