The Mystery of the Dying Cheetahs
Cheetahs are being threatened by a deadly disease called amyloid A amyloidosis, or AA amyloidosis. The illness kills up to 70 percent of the cats in captivity, making breeding efforts difficult.
AA amyloidosis resembles mad cow disease. A misfolded version of a protein converts normal proteins into abnormal ones, until large deposits of damaging protein build up in tissues — the spleen and liver in the case of AA amyloidosis, the brain and central nervous system for mad cow disease.
AA amyloidosis is not caused by a bacteria or virus, but it can likely spread from animal to animal like an infectious disease. Biologists have had difficulty, however, figuring out how the disease moves from cat to cat.
Sarah Durant, a conservation biologist at the Zoological Society of London and the U.S.–based Wildlife Conservation Society, says limiting the spread of AA amyloidosis among captive animals is a good strategy. Although the disease is unlikely to affect free-roaming cheetahs, she says that conquering it in captivity could raise awareness of the plight of wild cheetahs.
Sources: Science NOW May 12, 2008