Coronavirus outbreak: Zoos and national parks on alert for COVID-19

Updated: Apr 08, 2020, 07:19 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

Authorities concerned with captive wild animals specially observing them; Central Zoo Authority and National Tiger Conservation Authority also ask that keepers/ handlers use safety gear

This handout photo released by Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo shows Malayan tiger, Nadia, who tested positive. Pic/AFP
This handout photo released by Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo shows Malayan tiger, Nadia, who tested positive. Pic/AFP

Taking serious note of a tigress in a New York zoo testing positive for COVID-19, all concerned authorities in India are specially observing wild animals in captivity. The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) have also written letters to the Chief Wildlife Warden of all states in India on April 6, instructing them to be on the 'highest alert' regarding zoos, and have also asked keepers/ handlers to use safety gear in animals' vicinity.

According to news reports in several leading newspapers and international magazines in the USA, a tigress at New York's Bronx Zoo has been treated for COVID-19. In the articles it has been stated that there are chances that the animal might have contracted the virus from the caretaker who was asymptomatic at the time.

SGNP taking precautions
Officials from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) told mid-day that they are taking proper care of the animals and as per the CZA's instructions, they will test all animal keepers for COVID-19.

Veterinary officer at SGNP, Dr Shailesh Pethe said, "We are taking the best possible precautions for the wild animals in captivity at SGNP. The animal keepers who look after them are also taking basic precautions of hygiene when arriving for duty. The health of all our animals in captivity is completely fine and we are closely monitoring them".

The letters
The CZA's letter states that the United States Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories has confirmed the tiger's case. "Zoos in the country are therefore advised to remain on highest alertness, watch animals on 24X7 basis using CCTV for any abnormal behaviour/symptoms, keepers/ handlers not be allowed in the vicinity without safety gear preferably Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) , isolate and quarantine sick animals, and have least contact with providing feed to animals," says the CZA letter. It has been stated that carnivorous mammals, especially cats, ferrets and primates are to be carefully monitored and fortnightly samples of suspect cases sent to the designated animal health institutes to initiate COVID-19 testing.

"Tigers may be observed for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 such as respiratory signs of nasal discharge, coughing and laboured breathing through direct observation to the extent possible besides through camera trap images for visible symptoms," says the NTCA's letter. The forest department has been asked to ensure that personnel handling tigers in human-tiger negative interactions and translocation operations be ascertained to be Coronavirus negative and they should take due precaution as advised by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, from time-to-time.

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