How to monitor a tiger’s health - highlights from the IWAH course in India

by ZSL on

South Asia is home to great biodiversity but is also a hotspot for wildlife diseases and conflict, which are relatively unstudied. ZSL, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the University of Edinburgh (UoE), with the support of the Thriplow Charitable Trust, are working to train wildlife health professionals to tackle the problems. 

They jointly ran the second Interventions in Wild Animal Health (IWAH) Field Course in 2017. ZSL's Alexandra Thomas, Adminstrator for the MSc Wild Animal Health & Wild Animal Biology courses, shares the highlights. 

Sambar deer immobilisation practical
Participants monitoring and collecting samples during Sambar deer immobilisation practical

An integral component of the online MVetSci Conservation Medicine awarded by UoE, the course was held once again in Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, India. Building upon last year’s course, practical field skills in population monitoring, disease investigation and surveillance, and physical and chemical restraint were taught.  An important addition to the programme this year was a wildlife forensics component that generated considerable interest amongst the wildlife veterinarians undergoing the course. 

Twenty-six wildlife veterinarians from six different countries attended, with the majority of the students living and working in South Asia.

In response to feedback from last year’s students, additional hands-on field work and opportunities for students to test their skills was provided. For example, following a training session on radio-telemetry, one of the students successfully detected the movement of a tiger, the animal having been stationary for well over an hour, which enabled the student group to sight the tiger and monitor its health through direct examination. Without training earlier in the course, the wildlife veterinarian students might not have noticed the subtle changes in feedback from the radio transmitter and would have missed the opportunity to closely monitor the tiger.

Bengal tiger in Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan
Bengal tiger in Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan

The wildlife veterinarians received training in fundamental concepts in population monitoring techniques, such as camera trapping and line transects, before putting them into practice in the field. Understanding methods for monitoring population dynamics and carrying these out in the field are crucial foundations for determining the importance of threats to wildlife populations from infectious and non-infectious diseases. The students expressed the desire to apply this to their everyday work.

A visit to Pandupole temple provided a wealth of learning experiences in human-wildlife interface investigations. Wild animals are present in the vicinity of the temple which is visited by large numbers of people, with close interactions frequently occurring across species.  During the visit, two wild animal carcasses in very different states of decomposition were located enabling field pathological examinations to take place, providing an opportunity to understand the challenges in carrying out diagnostic investigations in real field situations. Under tutor guidance, course participants learned how to maximise the information gained from post-mortem examinations of wildlife in testing field conditions. 

Following a day of planning and skills acquisition, two days were devoted to field chemical restraint in Sariska National Park.  The students formed into groups with each group responsible for a different aspect of the procedure, ranging from remote drug delivery, post immobilization anaesthetic monitoring, biological sampling and animal monitoring. 

Sariska National Park is a wonderful natural environment for the students to learn in-situ and we are looking forward to the next IWAH course in 2018.  

  • The interventions in Wild Animal Health Field Course will take place annually and protioty is given to applicants from South Asia
  • Further details of the MVetSci Conservation Medicine are available here

Find out more about the course


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