S African cheetah died of heart attack, says autopsy report

By, Bhopal
Apr 25, 2023 12:11 AM IST

A six-year-old cheetah named Uday, brought from Africa as part of a project to reintroduce the species to India, died on Sunday due to a heart attack, possibly triggered by a toxin. Blood tests will reveal other health parameters of the cheetah. Experts suggested Uday may have died due to botulism, a rare illness caused by toxins entering the body. The cheetah was one of 20 brought to India from South Africa.

A post-mortem examination of the six-year-old cheetah Uday indicated a heart attack was the cause of death, officials said on Monday, with experts suggesting that the condition may have itself been triggered due to a toxin that entered the big cat’s blood stream.

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Other health parameters of the cheetah will be ascertained after the results of blood tests are in, officials said. The cheetah, one of 20 brought from Africa as part of a high-profile project to reintroduce the species to Indian soil, died on Sunday.

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“In the preliminary post-mortem (PM) report, the cause of death is stated to be cardiopulmonary failure. The detailed PM report and blood test report is awaited to know the reason behind other health parameters of the cheetah,” Madhya Pradesh principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) JS Chauhan said.

On Sunday, during a routine check, officials found Uday in a weak and lethargic condition and shifted him to a quarantine enclosure for treatment, where he died hours later.

He was brought to India from South Africa on February 18 in the second batch of cheetahs under the translocation project.

Experts said he might have died due to botulism — a rare illness caused by toxins entering the body.

“Cardiopulmonary failure is a symptom not a real cause behind death. The blood samples will reveal the real cause,” Adrian Tordiffe, South African veterinarian, said. Tordiffe is part of the veterinarian team that came to India with the cheetahs.

“I discussed Uday’s symptoms with veterinarians treating him and the way he was walking in the enclosure, his neck was looking semi-paralysed. He might have died due to botulism, toxins entering the body either through prey or water, which may have affected his nervous system,” Tordiffe said, adding that no other cheetah at Kuno National Park is showing symptoms of ill-health.

“Uday was alone in the number 2 enclosure,” he said. The cheetah was shifted from quarantine enclosure to a 6sq km predator-free enclosure last week. He was raised at the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve in South Africa before his translocation.

Another expert said that they are waiting for final test results so steps can be taken to avoid preventable deaths.

“We advocate waiting for the necropsy results before coming to any conclusions. What we know at this point is the death happened suddenly, just hours after the symptoms were first noticed, and despite Uday receiving immediate veterinary care. We want to ensure we understand the problem so we can take action steps to avoid preventable deaths,” said Laurie Marker, convenor of the Namibia-based Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) that is part of the project to relocate the big cats in India.

Uday is the second cheetah to die at the Kuno National Park in a month. In March, another cheetah named Sasha died due to renal failure.

Chief executive officer of the Wildlife Conservation Trust Anish Andheria said, “The two cheetahs died of different reasons. The forest department will evaluate the reasons for deaths and will devise a strategy to save other cheetahs. A large number of cheetahs was brought to India because of the high fatality rate. There is no need to make it (the deaths) a big issue.”

Prime Minister Modi on September 17 released the eight cheetahs from Namibia, in the first leg of the translocation project after a decades-long effort to restore a species that was declared extinct in 1952, owing to poaching and shrinking grasslands. The South African cheetahs were brought on February 18.

There are 18 cheetahs at the national park in Madhya Pradesh, along with four cubs born to Namibian cheetah Siyaya.

Uday’s death has come days after the Madhya Pradesh forest department wrote to the National Tiger Conservation Authority seeking to find a new home for the cheetahs. The department, in its letter written last month, said it will take another six months to prepare the alternate home at Gandhisagar Wildlife Sanctuary in Mandsaur district.

The department has said that Kuno, which is 738 sq km, will not be able to hold the present strength of the cheetahs. HT has seen a copy of the letter.

The department said that the cheetahs who were brought from South Africa, some of whom have been in quarantine since August 2022, need to be shifted to another spot as soon as possible, and preferably to Mukundra Hill in Rajasthan, which has a 10 sq km enclosure. Hill is safe for cheetah because of fencing and lower population of leopards.

NTCA is yet to respond to the MP forest department proposal.

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    She is a senior reporter based at Bhopal. She covers higher education, social issues, youth affairs, woman and child development related issues, sports and business & industries.

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