The discovery that three leopards in a Tripura sanctuary died of a rare animal disease, Ehrlichiosis-Rickettsia, has set alarm bells ringing in veterinary circles as this is the first time the bacteria has struck animals in the country.
Authorities were baffled by the sudden death of the leopards at Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary in March because the exact cause could not be immediately ascertained as the state did not have the required diagnostic facilities.
Exhaustive analysis by the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Assam shows the big cats were infected by the Rickettsia bacteria that is prevalent mostly in the United States.
“We couldn’t take any precautionary measure as the disease occurred for the first time,” said K G Roy, director of Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary. “We don't have the adequate diagnostic equipment at the Veterinary College and Hospital, so the diagnosis took a long time. Local veterinary experts administered intensive treatment and care to the leopards but could not save them.”
However, some experts questioned the findings, saying the leopards could have died of babesiosis, a more common disease among animals in India.
Dr K K Sharma, a senior veterinary specialist from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, said the disease proved fatal as leopards are in-breeders. “In-breeding affects the animals' immune system and they become disease-prone,” he said.
Not everybody agreed with the diagnosis. Another expert from the Directorate of Research in Assam, Dr Apurba Chakraborty, suspected the leopards were first affected by babesiosis that later mutated to Ehrlichiosis. As a precautionary measure, Dr Chakraborty has suggested burning the cages where the animals lived and sanitising the area to prevent bacterial growth.
“Babesiosis is not an uncommon disease. Animals become prone to it if they are not provided a clean dwelling place. The diagnosis takes a lot of time and in most cases the affected animal dies,” he said.