Lion In British Zoo Had
Form Of Mad Cow

LONDON - A lion at a zoo in the west of England was suffering from the feline version of "mad cow disease" when it was put down earlier this year.
Staff at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall disclosed Tuesday how Major, a 12-year-old male, was put to sleep in August after failing to recover from injuries sustained in a fight with another lion several years ago.
But results of a postmortem showed the animal was suffering from feline spongiform encephalopathy (FSE), the cat equivalent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the formal name for mad cow disease.
Officials at the British Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food in London were informed of the case after samples from the animal's brain were sent for laboratory tests.
But a ministry spokeswoman said the case was not felt to be a concern. "These animals don't go into the food chain," she said. "You are more at risk of getting mauled by a lion in a safari park than you are getting BSE from one."
The zoo's managing director, Mike Thomas, said staff had had no idea that the animal had the disease. "It was a very surprising piece of news for us," he said. "I would expect it would have had to come from Major eating part of a whole carcass, as it is the brain and spinal chord which carry the disease."
Although cases of FSE in big cats in Britain are not unprecedented, Major is only the third lion confirmed to have had the disease.
Official figures show a wide variety of exotic species have succumbed to mad cow disease-type illnesses since the first recorded death of a zoo animal from such a disease in June 1986. Most of the deaths have occurred among the species, with tigers, ocelot, puma and cheetah all falling victim. Isolated cases have also been reported among ruminants.
Major arrived at Newquay after fights with an older dominant male at Longleat Safari Park, south of Bristol in the west of England. When conventional treatment failed to work, zoo staff called in a local faith healer to try to cure the spinal problems Major had been left with as a result of the fighting. But the lion's health continued to go downhill, and in August he was put to sleep.
Keith Harris, head warden at Longleat Safari Park, which boasts 25 lions, said the park had not had any problems with FSE.

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