Adapted from M. Bush, L. Phillips, and R. Montali, 1987. Clinical management of captive tigers. In: Tigers of the World: The Biology, Biopolitics, Management, and Conservation of an Endangered Species. Noyes Publ., Park Ridge, NJ. With a section by N. Reindl, Minnesota Zoo, and significant contributions and additions by D. Armstrong, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo.
Although tigers are displayed in most zoos, and they have a long history in captivity, surprisingly little medical data have been published. Most published reports concern medical problems that are preventable, given the present state of the science of zoological medicine, namely dietary related deficiencies and diseases or viral infections.
Previous documents on medical support of endangered species have been formulated under the usual heading of "Disease." This inadvertently places the veterinarian in a reactive rather than an interactive role as a member of the conservation team. Our approach is to consider an overall medical program for the tiger that will not only minimize disease but improve overall viability. The emerging role of medical programs is to shift strategies from the care of individuals to the care of species, subspecies, and populations.
The medical and surgical care of captive tigers has become easier with advancements in other areas, especially in anesthesia and anesthetic techniques. Major nutritional problems are almost nonexistent due to the increased understanding of dietary needs including proper ratios of vitamins and minerals. The majority of contagious infectious diseases can be prevented by appropriate vaccines. Parasites (external and internal) can be effectively controlled or eliminated with newer drugs.
The present challenge to zoo staff, particularly the veterinarian, is to establish and maintain a strong and aggressive preventive medical program. Once this is instituted and functioning, the major medical problems encountered will be the geriatric problems of an aging collection.
Medical management of captive tigers requires the integration of preventive medical programs, clinical medicine, nutrition, husbandry practices, and pathological surveillance. The preventive programs have matured to meet the needs of the species. We continue to promote medical programs that are aggressive rather than reactive. The following protocols outline the necessary components of such a program for the medical management of captive tigers.
The scope of preventive medical procedures is extensive, from the time the animal enters the collection (i.e., birth or transfer) to its disposition to another zoo, or to a complete post-mortem examination when it dies. Specific preventive factors relate to diet, exhibit design, behavioral needs, cleaning procedures, pest control and the more medically oriented procedures such as vaccinations, parasite control and quarantine.
In dealing with tigers, it has been stated repeatedly they are just big domestic cats that share many anatomical, physiological, behavioral, and medical commonalities. Fortunately, this allows veterinarians to extrapolate from experiences and expertise dealing with the domestic counterpart. It is best not to be overzealous in utilizing this comparison since tigers are unique animals; new problems and new techniques should be approached through careful planning and good clinical judgment. One should always be ready for the unexpected.
The long-term management of the health of tigers begins before the animal arrives with appropriate planning of the management program and with arrangements to transfer and receive the animal that protect its health.Shipping Procedures
Shipment procedures for tigers require good organization to minimize stress to the animal. Before shipment the health status of the tiger is evaluated. If possible, the animal should have access to its shipping crate for two weeks prior to shipment to become familiar with it. The tiger should definitely be fed in it. In the United States, the design of the crate must meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements and be strong enough to safely hold the tiger (see Crate Specifications below). For international shipments, International Air Transport Association (IATA) requirements must be met, and these provide reasonable guidelines for most tiger transfers. If an extended trip is anticipated (more than 12 hr), provisions should be made for someone to offer water and food to the animal while in transit. In reality, however, tigers are unlikely to feed in transport and can easily go for a few days without food. Water is more crucial, and arrangements must be made to provide an adequate water supply for tigers in transit over 12 hours.
When a tiger is moved, one of its keepers should accompany it to
care for it in transit if the transport involves more than one
transfer en route, if travel time from airport drop-off to airport
pick-up is more than 12 hours, and if it is a very young cub. A
keeper familiar with the tiger may help it adjust to its new
environment. Husbandry, dietary and medical records should be
transmitted to the receiving institution prior to shipment, and
complete copies of these records should accompany the tiger during
shipment. It is important that any tiger tranquilized for shipment
be completely awake and standing before it travels. Tigers
are lost even under the best intentions, as shown in this excerpt
from the Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, March 25, 1992.
A shipping crate should be well ventilated, drain well, and absorbent bedding be provided to prevent the tiger from lying in urine. The crate must be strong enough and large enough for the tiger, but the size should allow easy movement and access through doorways. Particular attention should be paid to the size of doors on all airplanes on which the tiger may be transported.
(N. Reindl) All shipping containers for tigers other than cubs of under 15 kg should be constructed of steel or 1/8" thick aluminum. If wood is used, all interior surfaces must be metal-lined and free from sharp projections and edges. Basic design allows free flow of air through both ends of the container, but the design must be such that the tiger can not reach out to injure attendants. Use of a double door design on each end allows for a barred end gate, which provides containment for the animals. A second thin panel of expanded metal provides safety for the handlers working around the crate, yet can be lifted as needed to service the animal if delays occur or treatment is necessary. The doors on each end of the crate should be guillotine style to facilitate animal
|Crate Size||Inside Dimensions (in cm)||Outside Dimensions|
|Large: adult male||183||56||76||198||74||97|
|Medium: adult female||152||51||66||168||69||86|
Fig. 1. Schematic view of a typical shipping crate (U.S. Dep. Agric., 1980).
A large crate loaded with an adult tiger can weigh over 400 kg. It is essential that adequate handles are provided along the full length of each side of the container and that the bottom is raised with skids to allow the use of mechanized lifting equipment (fork lift). The International Animal Transport Association (IATA) standards follow.
Prior to the introduction of any new tiger to an existing population, the newcomer should be quarantined for at least 30 days. Ideally the tiger will be held in a separate facility and cared for by keepers that do not care for other felids. Unfortunately, this may not always be possible. In these instances, the tiger should be separated from other cats as much as possible, and keepers should work with it after they have finished all work with the existing collection. Personnel working with or near a quarantined cat should wear coveralls and rubber boots designated for the quarantine area. A foot bath in and out of quarantine helps prevent potential contamination. The quarantine area should have drainage separate from other cat facilities. Separate cleaning tools that are not removed from the quarantine area are a necessity.
Quarantine protocol for tigers (see Table Checklist) should include a parasite screening, complete physical examination, collection of a blood sample including serum sample banking, and preventive medical procedures such as immunizations and dental calculus removal. An animal should be observed carefully during the quarantine period, and factors such as the animal's behavior and appetite, and subtle symptoms of potential disease should be recorded daily.
The quarantine period allows observation and testing to monitor the animal for infectious diseases and/or parasites. The 30-day period is adequate to cover the incubation period of most infectious diseases. Animals newly captured from the wild may require a longer quarantine, particularly when treatment of parasites or disease problems is required.
The evaluation of a new tiger begins with a review of its past medical history, which should be part of the health certificate. It is unacceptable to send an animal to a new collection without sending its medical history. These data will alert the clinician to previous and potential problems and document past vaccinations, anesthetic doses, medical procedures, identification methods, fecal examinations and blood values. Body weights should be obtained on all tigers entering and leaving quarantine. It is recommended that each cat be individually identified with a subcutaneous microchip (transponder) and a tattoo of the studbook number. The placement of transponders and the location of tattoos have been directed by the American Zoo and Aquariums Association (AZA) Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) but may undergo review (especially the transponder placement).
When in quarantine, the tiger's diet is gradually changed to the new diet if different from the original. Any dietary alterations should be gradual to minimize gastrointestinal upset. It is not unusual to have a newly arrived tiger stop eating because of the environmental change. The Minnesota Zoo reported an adult female that refused to come into holding from her exhibit and did not eat for 19 days; an adult male from the Moscow Zoo never did switch over to zoo diet for its entire life. In some cases it is advantageous to have some of the animal's previous diet accompany it if the food is not available locally. To stimulate appetite, whole carcasses of rabbits or chickens may be offered.