Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Gharial Crisis

Friday, February 1, 2008

Death toll: 93

On the 27th January Brian Stacy, a pathologist from the University of Florida and Aniruddha Belsare, the GCA veterinarian along with experts from other agencies and institutes such as IVRI, Wildlife SOS and Forest Department conducted 4 autopsies and found significant gout – both visceral and articulate. Even the finger joints and tail joints had uric acid deposits. However, the animals seemed in good condition with a lot of fat. This suggests kidney failure as a result of toxic poisoning or disease. A couple of days later a fresh kidney sample was obtained for further analysis. Results are awaited.

To digress a bit – the massive die-off of vultures in India was also a result of gout. It took a few years to pinpoint the cause as diclofenac, a commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used on livestock. No other animal or bird in these areas was noticeably affected by diclofenac as the vultures were.

Rom remembered that an adult female gharial had died at the London Zoo as a result of gout and nephritis in the 1970s. The registrar of the zoo in looking for the full post mortem report in their archives

In the meantime, Fritz Huchzermeyer (Vice-Chairman of the IUCN-Croc Specialist Group’s Veterinary advisory group, and Paolo Martelli (Ocean Parks, Hong Kong) have also joined the team and more autopsies confirmed the same diagnosis: gout. Fritz also diagnosed possible osteoporosis which he said indicated a population suffering from stress. Communication channels have been opened with diclofenac specialists who worked on vultures to share methodology, testing procedures, etc. Avenues of investigation include a diclofenac type of toxin that targets a specific species, or it could be something totally new that we haven’t even thought of yet.

According to the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department autopsy records, about 60% of the dead gharials were male, approx. 21% were females and about 18% unknown (probably because the carcasses were too decomposed). We do not know if this indicates that males are particularly vulnerable to poisoning or whether they form a larger proportion of the population. The affected animals range from 160 to 410 cm in length, the average being 250 cm.

Samuel Martin of La Ferme aux Crocodiles, France joined the team today. He’s the only vet with prior gharial experience having worked on the conservation project in Nepal.

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