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Case Report

Suspected lead poisoning in two captive cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus) in South Africa, in 2008 and 2013

Michelle A. North, Emily P. Lane, Kelly Marnewick, Peter Caldwell, Glen Carlisle, Louw C. Hoffman

Journal of the South African Veterinary Association; Vol 86, No 1 (2015), 5 pages. doi: 10.4102/jsava.v86i1.1286

Submitted: 24 February 2015
Published:  13 August 2015


Whilst lead poisoning in raptors, scavenging birds and waterfowl is well studied and common knowledge, there is surprisingly little literature detailing the risk to mammalian scavengers and captive carnivores fed hunted meat. This case report describes the death of two captive cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus) following acute onset of nervous symptoms. Clinical signs included hyper-excitability, seizures, arched back, tail held abnormally high and hyper-salivation. Necropsy findings included bullets or a bullet in their stomachs. Kidney and liver lead levels from one cheetah (15.6 ppm and 17 ppm respectively) were consistent with a diagnosis of lead poisoning; liver from the second cheetah was not available for testing. Both animals were routinely fed hunted antelope or game birds. This is the first report of oral lead poisoning in captive large carnivores, although these are unlikely to be the first cases. Without awareness of the risks of feeding hunted game, lead exposure will continue to be an underdiagnosed reality in the rehabilitation of endangered carnivores.

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Author affiliations

Michelle A. North, Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, University of Calgary, Canada
Emily P. Lane, Department of Research and Scientific Services, National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, South Africa
Kelly Marnewick, Carnivore Conservation Programme, Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa
Peter Caldwell, Old Chapel Veterinary Clinic, Pretoria, South Africa
Glen Carlisle, Oudtshoorn Veterinary Clinic, Oudtshoorn, South Africa
Louw C. Hoffman, Department of Animal Sciences, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


Captive carnivore management; intoxication; lead shot; nutrition; Pb; rehabilitation; Acinonyx jubatus


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ISSN: 1019-9128 (print) | ISSN: 2224-9435 (online)

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