Death debate over tiger with cancer
Lucknow, Nov. 18: A two-and-a-half-year-old tiger put in the Lucknow zoo after it turned a man-eater has been diagnosed with cancer, sparking a debate on whether it should be left to suffer or given euthanasia.
Kishen, as he is called because he had strayed from the Kishenpur Sanctuary in Lakhimpur Kheri district, was found to have hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of blood vessels, in October, almost seven months after he was captured and brought to the zoo.
He had killed five persons between February 5 and March 7. The victims were all villagers staying close to the sanctuary, around 180km from Lucknow. Forest officials had initially considered shooting the tiger but didn't go ahead with the plan under pressure from wildlife activists.
Vets have begun chemotherapy. “We are not sure of the results but we want to see that the animal stays alive,” said Dr V. Swaroop, the head of Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly.
According to zoo director Renu Singh, the cancer has a tendency to spread fast towards the lungs. “When this happens, it could be life threatening,” she said, adding the cancer might have set in before it had turned man-eater.
Zoo officials first noticed a swelling in the tiger’s ears. “We applied medicine but it wasn’t duly cured,” says Utkarsh Shukla, one of the zoo’s expert vets. Later, the swellings spread to other parts of the body. A biopsy test was conducted and it confirmed the cancer, Shukla said.
Zoo director Singh said since the disease first struck the ears — crucial to helps recognise voices and movement of prey — it prevented the animal from hunting. “As a result, the animal may have strayed from forest and gone for the relatively easier option of killing humans,” said Singh.
Life has almost stopped for Kishen. He doesn’t roar at the sight of visitors near its cage anymore and hardly eats. It was recently removed from public view and kept in a desolate cage alone so it could spend its time peacefully.
A section of wildlife experts feels that with the cancer at an advanced stage, Kishen should be put through a painless death. “The pain is difficult for the tiger to bear. A more humane approach would be to put it through euthanasia. Of course, the doctors should reach a consensus on this,” said tiger expert I.B. Sharma.
Other officials don’t agree, pointing to the fact that Kishen is too young. “Euthanasia is the last option. We will try to reduce its pain through chemotherapy as long as possible,” said a zoo official.
Another pointed to the fact that the average life span of a tiger is 15 years. “Kishen is just two and half years. He is too young to die.”
But allowing diseased tigers relief in death isn’t without precedent. This September, a cancer-struck Royal Bengal tigress was given euthanasia in Indiana in the US. Two months before that, a 16-year-old Malayan tiger suffering from the same disease was put to death at a Texas zoo.