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Twelfth Tiger Dies in India

July 7, 2000

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ A team of veterinarians sped to an impoverished southeastern Indian state Friday after another Royal Bengal Tiger died of either sleeping sickness or its antidote, further decimating a major zoo’s tiger population.

Nandankanan Zoo in Orissa State is home to India’s largest collection of tigers. It had 56 of the rare cats, but since June 23, 12 have died, prompting the veterinarians’ search for a cause.

Eight of the dead _ including seven-year-old Abinash, who died Friday _ were white tigers, members of the world’s biggest collection of the specially bred type.

Some wildlife experts and animal rights activists have begun demanding the closure of zoos and parks across the country. In some areas, cash-strapped local governments are unable to build proper cages and provide the right food or medical care for animals.

Throughout the country, zoo officials were issuing statements saying they had taken precautions to protect their tigers, lions and other animals. But there has been no official report from Orissa on what happened to the tigers.

Zoo officials have said they died of sleeping sickness, caused by tsetse flies.

The disease is curable if treated, and the dead and ailing tigers were vaccinated. But animal experts are raising questions about whether the right medication was given at the right time, or whether overdoses were administered, poisoning the tigers.

After hours of waiting at Nandankanan Zoo for a sample of the medicine injected into the tigers on Monday, a a team of drug experts were told that there was not enough of the medicine left for testing, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

The carcasses of the dead tigers were cremated after the zoo conducted autopsies. The zoo said the reason was to keep the skins from being sold on the black market.

``Tigers die ignominious deaths from curable disease, in cages where they are put on display,″ The Times of India said in an editorial Friday. It called the country’s wildlife protection bureaucracy ``callous and inefficient.″

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