Equine illness kills big cats in Iran–feral cats blamed

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2011:

TEHRAN–A Russian/Iranian zoo animal exchange reportedly
promoted by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin came to grief, the
Iranian National News Agency and the Russian ITAR-TASS agency
disclosed in January 2011, after an Amur tiger sent from the
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Zoo in Russia to the Eram Zoo in Tehran died from
the bacterial disease glanders. Fourteen African lions were later
euthanized after also becoming infected.
Russian natural resources minister Yury Trutneve and Iranian
counterpart Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh brokered the deal in early
2010. In April 2010 a Russian aircraft flew a pregnant female Amur
tiger and a male to Tehran, picked up a pair of Persian leopards,
and returned to Moscow.

Amur tigers are closely related to the Mazandaran tigers
found in Iran until circa 1960. Persian leopards inhabited the
Caucasus region of Russia until the early 20th century. Both the
tigers and the leopards were to produce offspring for release into
the wild, and were perhaps to have been released into the wild
themselves. Putin had hoped, according to Agence France-Presse,
that Persian leopards could be re-established in Russian before the
2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The first word of the deaths came when the Iran State News
Agency reported on January 3 that according to Iranian Environmental
Protection Organisation adviser Hooshang Ziaee, “Preliminary
laboratory tests show that the Amur tiger tested positive for FIV.”
Ziaee added that a Bengal tiger and five other lions at the Eram zoo
had also tested positive for FIV.
Eram Zoo director Amir Elhami said the tiger had been
infected with FIV before arrival, but denied that any other animals
contracted FIV. Unnamed Russian officials insisted that both tigers
were “absolutely healthy at the moment of transfer,” said ITAR-TASS.
Then said Ziaee, “The final cause for the death of the
Siberian tiger was that it and other felines fed on diseased
donkeys,” an unlikely mode of FIV transmission.
Two weeks later the Iranian state-owned daily newspaper Jam-e
Jam reported that the lions were suffering from glanders, wrote
Nasser Karimi of Associated Press.
Mohammadizadeh confirmed to the Iranian news agency Fars that
the deceased Amur tiger died after being fed contaminated meat,
admitting the possibility of glanders. The other tiger remained in
quarantine, he said.
As large carnivores kept in zoos are often fed horse or
donkey meat, and glanders is chiefly an equine illness, the
contaminated meat hypothesis seemed plausible. Rare in the U.S. and
Europe, glanders is still relatively common in Africa, Asia, the
Middle East, and South America.
But Elhami denied that the deaths of the tiger and lions were
due in any way to poor feeding or zoo conditions.
“The Russian tiger that was brought to the country was itself
a carrier of glanders and did not catch the disease in Iran,” Elhami
alleged to Press TV.
“He said that other zoo inhabitants had no glanders, and all
were in good health. The only previous case of glanders at the
Tehran Zoo happened 50 years ago, Elhami said,” according to the
Iranian National News Agency.
Eram Zoo veterinarian Houman Moloukpour told media that the
lions were euthanized after the loss of three other lions in two
months due to glanders. Moloukpour said that the zoo was concerned
that glanders could spread to zoo visitors, and asserted that
glanders cannot be treated in wild animals, although domestic
species may respond to treatment.
Eventually the glanders outbreak was blamed on feral cats.
“Feral cats, who frequently go to the zoo, can easily transfer the
disease to the rest of the city,” asserted veterinarian Ami Peiman
Khosravi of the Tehran Veterinary Center.
Glanders experts were skeptical.
“Limited data is available about glanders in felines, let
alone tigers and lions,” commented International Society for
Infectious Diseases moderator Karn Lekagul from Bangkok, Thailand.
Lekagul found in a literature search only that University of
Pennsylvania Veterinary School founder Rush Shippen Huidekoper in
1895 stated that he had “seen a number of lions die in a menagerie
from having eaten glandered meat.” In addition, Huidekoper observed
that a cat and her litter who ate offal from a glandered horse he had
necropsied became terminally ill within four days.
“Although glanders can theoretically have an incubation from
days to months,” Lekagul advised, “most infection progresses in
weeks. If these Amur tigers from the cold region of Far East Russia
had contracted glanders in Russia, the disease would have more
likely flared up during the environmental stress of the hot Iranian
summer, not the cool winter.
“The possibility of stray cats at the zoo transmitting
glanders is possible,” Lekagul wrote. “A stray cat might have been
infected with glanders from elsewhere and transmitted the disease to
zoo animals. But this is quite unlikely, as a sick cat with
glanders would have to wander through the animal cages, and eat or
contaminate the same water or food source as the tiger and lions.”

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