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July 7, 2000 

  

BHUBANESHWAR(AP) - Another Royal Bengal Tiger died on Thursday at a zoo in eastern India, a day after nine tigers dropped dead of sleeping sickness despite being injected with antibiotics, a top state government official said.


Another two tigers were in critical condition at the Nandankanan Zoo, which houses India's largest collection of Royal Bengal tigers and the world's largest collection of white tigers, the official said.


Veterinarians had administered the antibiotics after a tiger died at the zoo on June 23. They found the animals had contracted sleeping sickness, or trypanosomiasis, an illness spread by tsetse flies.


Nine Royal Bengal tigers - including seven rare white tigers - died one by one on Wednesday.


Six other tigers, two of them in critical condition, were being treated in an animal hospital at the zoo.


The zoo housed 56 Bengal Royal Tigers, including 32 whites, before the deaths occurred.


S.K. Patnaik, chief wildlife warden at the zoo in the capital of the southeastern state of Orissa, said preliminary autopsies indicated all the tigers died of the same disease, despite the antibiotics.


"It's a curable disease provided it is diagnosed early. In this case, it was very difficult to find out if they were sick," said Dr. B.K. Das, a veterinary surgeon at the zoo.


The previous highest death toll among captive tigers was recorded at a zoo in Mysore in southern India in 1978 when eight tigers died within two weeks, The Asian Age newspaper reported.


S.C. Sharma, a wildlife expert, said crowding at the zoo in one of India's poorest states could have resulted in poor hygiene, which spread the infection.


The government set up a committee of experts from several veterinary colleges in the state to try to save the other tigers.


The National Geographic Society estimates that while 100,000 tigers roamed free at the turn of the century, only 5,000 to 7,000 exist in the wild today, about half in India.


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