Post-Mortems - Page 1: Preparation | 2: Post-Mortem | 3: Disposal

A post-mortem can be approached in several ways. Sometimes, and particularly with captive tigers, it may already be known where the source of the problem originated: eye, brain, heart, etc, so the veterinarian will focus on that one area. Most often it is necessary to do what this wild tiger post-mortem shows; examine the entire animal. In the case of a wild tiger no idea of cause of death may be known, while for captive tigers the apparent cause of illness during life may simply have been masking the true cause of death.

To look at all the organs it is necessary to make a long abdominal incision from the neck to tail; this opens up the body cavity for best viewing. It is usual to firstly examine the organs in place and then remove the various parts for individual study. (If this tiger was thought to have a brain dysfunction, an additional incision would be made in  the skull). The cause of disease or death may be obvious to the naked eye, but, if not, then tissue samples are usually collected and sent for pathological testing. In the normal course of events it takes about a week for the results to be returned. Samples are small and can be taken from just about any organ in the body including blood, bone and intestinal contents. Taking impression smears involves placing a glass slide on the surface of the tissue then examining under microscope the cells which adhere to the slide. When bacterial infection is suspected cultures are taken and developed in a specially prepared medium.

What is learnt from a post-mortem? The following are only some of the reasons for carrying out this important procedure:

1. A postmortem can reveal genetic, environmental and dietary problems. With the knowledge gained from a post-mortem such defects can hopefully be avoided or controlled.

2. As with the wild tiger shown on these pages, without a postmortem it may never be known what happened. For the protection of the species it is necessary to know if local villagers or poachers are placing poisoned carcasses out for tigers. Poisoning of meat and waterholes is a common poaching method.

3. Zoonotic diseases are those which are transmissible from animals to people. In the case of captive tigers that bite humans the issue of rabies is often raised. Though the disease is virtually unknown amongst these cats, many are euthanised under court order so they can be tested for the presence of rabies. This is one situation where only a post-mortem examination of the brain can detect the disease quickly, but given that it is a highly unlikely scenario the loss of such an animal is always sad.

4. A post-mortem may reveal a disease that has the potential to kill an entire cat group. Once the source of a problem is identified veterinarians in captive facilities can use preventative measures like vaccination to halt the illness before it takes hold. In zoos the death of one cat from an unidentified illness could mean a threat exists which would spread to all the cats in the facility. In the wild it can be important to identify a possible disease which might eradicate an isolated tiger population. Even the death of one tiger significantly decimates the available gene pool of animals.

5. A post-mortem can reveal the success or failure of certain management plans. Without this type of examination, it's impossible to know for sure if the treatments which were chosen for an animal were a success or not. Much of the current available knowledge on medications, diets and surgeries comes as a result of what veterinarians have found during post-mortem examinations. Armed with this knowledge they may modify their techniques for the future.

Post-Mortems - Page 1: Preparation | 2: Post-Mortem | 3: Disposal

Origin | Project Tiger | Releasing Captive Tigers | The Tale Of Tara | Taking A CensusPost Mortems
Tiger Reserves: Amur | Bali | Bengal | Caspian | Corbetts | Javan | South Chinese | Sumatran

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Photography With Thanks To Aditya Singh
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