US tiger coronavirus positive; wildlife and zoo alert in India

Zoo keepers not to be allowed in vicinity of animals without safety gear

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Monday 06 April 2020

The Union government has asked the Chief Wildlife Wardens (CWWs) of all states to be on high alert, after a four-year-old Malayan tiger at Bronx zoo in New York, United States was found to have the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on April 5, 2020.

All animals were to be watched round the clock for any abnormal behaviour, said separate advisories by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the wildlife division of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), on April 5.

“Zoo keepers/handlers are not to be allowed in the vicinity without safety gear, preferably Personal Protective Equipment,” said a letter, written by SP Yadav, member secretary of the CZA.

“Isolate, quarantine sick animals and have least contact while providing feed to animals,” Yadav said in the letter.

CWWs were to focus on monitoring carnivores like cats, ferrets and primates and send fortnightly samples of suspect cases to designated animal health centres for testing, Yadav added.

The MoEF&CC’s wildlife division asked CWWs to form a task force or a rapid action force, with field managers, veterinary doctors, and frontline staff to manage any situation as quickly as possible.

Reduced human-to-wildlife interaction and restriction of movement of people in national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves should be ensured, said R Gopinath, joint director of the MoEF&CC wildlife division, in a letter.

A round-the-clock reporting mechanism with a nodal officer should be in place to swiftly manage any cases, along with essential services for emergency treatment of animals and their safe release to natural habitats, the letter said.

“Enhance disease surveillance, mapping and monitoring systems through co-ordinated efforts amongst various departments,” the letter said, in a directive to the CWWs.

The cause of how the infection spread to the tiger was not known yet, with a chance that the animal’s feeder perhaps infected the tiger with the virus, Soumitra Dasgupta, the inspector general of forests in the MoEF&CC’s wildlife division, told Down To Earth.

“We are sure that this infection can spread to animals and that’s why we have issued this advisory, so that we aren't taken aback. It’s a purely preventive measure and a direction to our field officials to be alert,” Dasgupta said.

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