NEW DELHI – Veterinarians carried out a rare blood transfusion in an attempt to save a 7-month-old wild tiger that had been attacked and beaten by angry villagers in central India. The female cub received the emergency treatment late Sunday after blood taken from captive adults was airlifted to the zoo where the cub is being cared for, said Bimal Majumdar, the chief wildlife officer in the region.
He said it was the first time a transfusion had been given to a tiger in India.
The cub, which doctors named Juhi after a fragrant white flower native to India, was still in serious condition Monday at the zoo in the city of Nagpur, some 530 miles southeast of New Delhi, he said.
India's wild tiger population has plummeted to just some 1,500 — down from about 3,600 six years ago and an estimated 100,000 a century ago. Shrinking habitats have brought them into conflict with farmers and poachers have killed them for their pelts and body parts, which are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine.
Juhi and her sister were rescued two weeks ago from villagers who tried to kill them, fearing they would go after their children and cattle. The cubs also appear to have been abandoned by their mother.
"The cubs were in bad shape at the time they were rescued. They were starving," said Majumdar. "The villagers had also beaten them with sticks so they were injured as well."
While the other cub Jai, or Victory, responded well after being brought to the zoo, Juhi's condition deteriorated.
On Sunday, veterinarians treating the cat discovered that her hemoglobin levels had suddenly dropped to a dangerously low level and decided the only way to save her was to carry out a blood transfusion.
They sent a request to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, where doctors tranquilized two healthy adult tigers and drew three-fourths of a pint of blood from each of them. Four hours later the blood reached Nagpur, said Vinery Jangle, the park's head veterinarian.
Jangle, who oversaw the transfusion, said she remained uncertain whether it would prove successful because only rudimentary tests were done to determine whether the donor blood matched Juhi's type.
"The blood grouping procedure is critical, but in India there has been no work done on blood groups. There are no studies on blood types and wild tigers," she said, adding that she was unaware of a transfusion being performed on a tiger elsewhere.
Transfusions for rare animals can be difficult because blood types and antibodies vary from species to species, according to the Web site of Brown University's Division of Biology and Medicine.
While rare, transfusions have been done in the past on turtles, pandas and a baby elephant at Western zoos, which sometimes bank an animals own blood in case it needs a transfusion, the Web site said.
Pandurang Munde, the Mumbai park's director, said it was worth the risk.
"We needed to save the young one's life. If the hemoglobin was low, there was only one remedy: blood transfusion," he said.
The cub was on a saline drip and cameras had been installed in her enclosure so they could monitor her around the clock, said Majumdar.
"She is still not in good shape," he said. "So we have our fingers crossed."