AboutZoos, Since 2008


New study links neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders in cap­tive felids to improper diet

pub­lished 31 Decem­ber 2014 | mod­i­fied 31 Decem­ber 2014

Find­ings from a recently pub­lishCheetah withcollared research study con­firm what many sci­en­tists have long sus­pected. A high inci­dence of neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders among cap­tive felids in the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE), includ­ing demyeli­na­tion of the spinal cord, cor­re­lates to cop­per and Vit­a­min A defi­cien­cies, which is attrib­ut­able to meat diets not prop­erly sup­ple­mented nor based on mixed, whole car­cass prey. The study was con­ducted by the Cen­tral Vet­eri­nary Research Lab­o­ra­tory (CVRL) in Dubai, United Arab Emi­rates, with col­lab­o­ra­tion from Chee­tah Con­ser­va­tion Fund (CCF), Namibia; Insti­tute of Ani­mal Nutri­tion, Vet­su­isse Fac­ulty Zurich; and Cen­tre for Applied Biotech­nol­ogy and Mol­e­c­u­lar Med­i­cine, Uni­ver­sity of Zurich.

The study, pub­lished in the Octo­ber issue of the sci­en­tific jour­nal Food and Nutri­tion Sci­ences,com­pared blood and tis­sue sam­ples among cap­tive felids, includ­ing chee­tahs, lions, and snow leop­ards, that were fed dif­fer­ent diets. Thirty per­cent of the ani­mals that did not receive sup­ple­ments and existed pri­mar­ily on a poul­try mus­cle meat diet dis­played clin­i­cal neu­ro­log­i­cal signs such as ataxia, lack of coor­di­na­tion, sway­ing gait and mod­er­ate to severe hind limb weak­ness. Despite hav­ing nor­mal appetites, these ani­mals devel­oped hind limb pare­sis and were even­tu­ally unable to stand. They either died or were euth­a­nized, as dam­age is per­ma­nent and there is no treatment.

The results [of the recently pub­lished study] showed us that a sup­ple­mented diet is one of the key fac­tors of keep­ing wild ani­mals healthy in captivity
Dr. Kaiser, lead author, vet­eri­nar­ian, CVRL and the Insti­tute of Ani­mal Nutri­tion, Vet­su­isse Fac­ulty Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland »

We did this study because of all the post mortem find­ings of the pre­vi­ous years at the CVRL. Due to the fact that there was demyelin­i­sa­tion of the CNS [Cen­tral Ner­vous Sys­tem, Moos] in a lot of felids that were ataxic before euthana­sia or nat­ural death, we wanted to know if there was a cor­re­la­tion between the symp­tom and their nutri­tion. The results showed us that a sup­ple­mented diet is one of the key fac­tors of keep­ing wild ani­mals healthy in cap­tiv­ity”, said Dr. Kaiser. “Cap­tive ani­mals can­not care for them­selves, so it is our respon­si­bil­ity to opti­mise their lives in captivity”.

Accord­ing to Dr. Lau­rie Marker, Founder and Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of CCF and one of the study’s co-​authors, chee­tah myelopa­thyis the term used to describe ataxia, hind limb paral­y­sis and pare­ses caused by degen­er­a­tive lesions of the spinal cord. It’s been found his­tor­i­cally among some chee­tahs kept in zoos, wildlife parks and pri­vate col­lec­tions, but is now being reported with alarm­ing fre­quency in the United Arab Emi­rates, where chee­tahs are pop­u­larly kept as exotic pets, and most of the time the chee­tahs were ille­gally cap­tured in the wild. Chee­tah myelopa­thy can lead to vision loss, mus­cle weak­ness, stiff­ness, spasms, loss of coor­di­na­tion, loss of sen­sa­tion, pain, and changes in blad­der and bowel func­tion. The major­ity of these cases are fatal.

Many Emi­rates view chee­tahs and other large felids as sta­tus sym­bols, but are often unfa­mil­iar with the animal’s proper care or diet. Big cats need the vit­a­mins, min­er­als and trace ele­ments found in bones, vis­cera, fur and feath­ers to remain healthy”, said Dr. Marker. “Unfor­tu­nately, many chee­tahs kept as pets are not fed whole car­casses with appro­pri­ate sup­ple­ments, nor are they pro­vided with the cor­rect sup­ple­ments to bal­ance their diet. As a result, they expe­ri­ence debil­i­tat­ing health prob­lems, and many will die prematurely”.

With fewer than 10,000 wild chee­tahs remain­ing and 50 to 70 per­cent of poached cubs dying en route to the Ara­bian Penin­sula, there is lit­tle doubt the ille­gal trade in chee­tahs is tak­ing an already endan­gered species closer to the brink of extinc­tion. “More edu­ca­tion is needed to reduce the demand for chee­tahs as exotic pets. If these wealthy exotic ani­mal own­ers truly care about their ani­mals, they would use their resources to edu­cate oth­ers and help pro­tect these majes­tic crea­tures where they belong, in the wild”, added Dr. Marker.

Chee­tah Con­ser­va­tion Fund
The Chee­tah Con­ser­va­tion Fund (CCF) is the global leader in research and con­ser­va­tion of chee­tahs. CCF is a Namib­ian non-​profit trust ded­i­cated to sav­ing the chee­tah in the wild. CCF believes that under­stand­ing the cheetah’s biol­ogy, ecol­ogy and inter­ac­tions with peo­ple is essen­tial to con­serve the chee­tah in the wild. The strat­egy is a three-​pronged process of research, con­ser­va­tion and edu­ca­tion, begin­ning with long-​term stud­ies to under­stand and mon­i­tor the fac­tors affect­ing the cheetah’s sur­vival. Results are used to develop con­ser­va­tion poli­cies and pro­grams. CCF works with local, national and inter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ties to raise aware­ness, com­mu­ni­cate and educate.

(Source: Chee­tah Con­ser­va­tion Fund press release, 30.12.2014)

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