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Eighteen-year-old Daksha, one of the oldest leopards of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), died at around 8.45 pm on Friday. She is the third big cat to have died in the month of October, after 15 year-old leopard Raja and 12-year-old lioness Shobhaa, creating speculation about whether the health of the animals was being adequately attended to.
Alarmed by the chain of deaths, Vikas Gupta, SGNP director and chief conservator of forests held an emergency meeting with 8 veterinarians, four of whom were from the Bombay Veterinary College, at the national park on Saturday.
“While the post-mortem reports are yet to come out, she seems to have died of old age as she didn’t have any health problems. She lived to reach 18, which is a ripe old age for a leopard. However, three deaths in a month is definitely a cause of concern. We had a meeting where we discussed plans to do more frequent health check-ups and meet once a month to discuss what improvements can be made,” said Gupta. “The animals are being taken care of not only by our veterinary officer, but also by consulting vets,” he assured.
It was a sad day for the staff who maintain the rescue centre where Daksha was housed as she died in front of them. According to Shailesh Deore, superintendent of the lion and tiger safari, Daksha was sent to SGNP by the Nashik forest department in 2004. Describing her as quite a fiesty character, he said, “She had a problem in one eye so she could not be left in the wild. Since she was brought from the forest, she was more fiesty as compared to leopards born in captivity.”
Dr Yuvraj Kaginkar, who regularly treats SGNP’s wildlife as a consulting veterinarian, told dna, “Daksha started showing severe signs of respiratory distress on Friday night.
SGNP now has 16 leopards left, of which most are old. Twelve are above 11 years of age (leopards live up to 15 years in the wild, and 20 in captivity), while out of the 12, three are over 15 (the oldest is 18). Just 4 leopards are less than 10 years of age.
Dr Kaginkar also said that a slew of measures were discussed at the meeting. “We will be closely monitoring their health now. Some of the leopards are obese, so we will work out a nutritious diet. They will also be given more space for exercise. We have also proposed a ‘machan’ setting for the tiger safari. This is an elevated structure on which the tiger can climb and sit. This will also help them sharpen their claws,” he said.
The bad news is that the opening of the spacious new rescue centre for leopards may be delayed by another month. “We have decided to convert around 2 of the 8 cages in each wing into squeeze cages, which can be used to treat any ailing leopard. So that will take a little bit of time, but its important for their health,” said Gupta.