Wildlife & Biodiversity

New MoEF guidelines for elephant deaths from anthrax

Environment ministry suggests official team to collect biological samples, dispose infected carcasses safely and map anthrax hotspots

 
By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Friday 17 January 2020

An official team to oversee safe disposal of elephant carcasses infected with anthrax as well as a map of anthrax hotspots are some of the steps recommended in a new standard operating procedure (SOP) formulated by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).

The overall authority responsible at the state level under the SOP’s provisions will be the chief wildlife warden, in accordance with the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.  

Under him, field directors in case of tiger reserves, protected area managers in case of national parks or wildlife sanctuaries and wildlife wardens or divisional forest officers / deputy conservators of forests in case of revenue lands /conservation revenue / community reserves / townships) would be responsible.

The SOP also lays down rules for the constitution of a team to oversee assessment and disposal of elephant carcasses suspected to be infected with anthrax.

Apart from the officials mentioned previously, this team would also include a nominee of the chief wildlife warden of the state, a representative of the National Tiger Conservation Authority if the incident pertains to a tiger reserve, a representative from the local non-governmental organisation, district veterinary officer or his representative and a representative of the local Panchayati Raj institution among others.

The procedure will also have steps to assess whether the elephant died due to anthrax and the collection of biological samples.

A map of anthrax hotspots is to be created as well.

“It is advised to prepare a histogram of anthrax-related deaths using retrospective data overtime to forest disease occurrence. In addition, spatial distribution should be plotted to identify anthrax zones in the given area,” the SOP document, uploaded on the MoEF&CC’s website on January 3, 2020, said.

“The deaths of elephants due to anthrax are not widespread. But they occur sporadically, like the last one in Odisha’s eastern range. That was the trigger to form this SOP. One can only know if an elephant has died from anthrax after proper post-mortem is done. This SOP has the provisions for that,” Inspector General of Forest, MOEF&CC, Noyal Thomas told Down to Earth.

Anthrax is an infectious zoonotic disease, which means it could be transferred from animals to humans. It is primarily a disease of herbivorous animals particularly cattle, sheep, goats, horses and mules.

The disease occurs naturally among herbivores through contaminated soil and feed. It occurs among omnivores and carnivores through contaminated meat, bone meals or other feeds; and among wild animals from feeding on anthrax-infected carcasses.

Infected animals shed the bacilli in terminal haemorrhage or spilt blood at death. Anthrax spores can persist in soil for many years.

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