Death of sloth bears mainly due to tuberculosis (TB) has been continuing at Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) despite several measures taken up by the authorities.
Over 100 sloth bears, which have been rescued from various places, are housed at the BBP’s rescue centre.
Unfortunately, most of the rescued ones have tested positive for TB. As many as 20 of the 23 sloth bears which have been examined by veterinarians are suffering from TB.
More than a dozen sloth bears have died since January, 2012 and the condition of rest of the bears is said to be ‘critical’. Contact with human beings, lack of food and stress are some of the reasons for the sloth bears to become victims of TB. In spite of frequent medical check-ups, the bears show symptoms of TB only when the disease aggravates.
In the absence of any medical kit available for the treatment of TB in sloth bears, veterinary doctors are using the kit which is used to treat jumbos.
Over the last one or two years, TB has become a major killer of bears, especially of those which have been rescued from Kalandars (bear charmers).
Following complaints from animal lovers on torture of sloth bears by Kalandars, the Supreme Court directed the BBP authorities to open the Bear Rescue Centre to house all the bears which have been rescued from various parts of the country.
Last year, after some bears died of TB, experts from National TB Institute, Delhi and Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Bio-Technology, Trivandrum, tested all bears which showed symptoms.
Wildlife Veterinary Officer, Bear Rescue Centre, BBP, Dr Arun told City Express that a majority of bears are infected by Mycobacterium tuberculosis which also infects humans.
“The bears may have contracted TB because of constant interaction with people,” he said. He also added that these bears were taken to several places without food by the Kalandars and in the process they develop all kind of infections. “Another major hurdle in treating is that the age of these animals are not known as they were separated from their mother very early by charmers. Without proper age, medication is difficult as there are chances of overdose,” he said.
Although, the infected bears have been quarantined and treated, it is very difficult to say how long they will live. Unlike human beings, these bears show symptoms like absence of liquid from nostrils, fatigue and lack of activity only when the disease becomes serious. They stop eating food and face difficulty in breathing. Any treatment at this stage does not help. A post-mortem on one of the bears that died recently showed huge lumps of sputum in the lungs. “The lumps of sputum makes it hard for the bear to breathe,” said Dr Arun.
Medical treatment Chairman of Zoo Authority of Karnataka, M Nanjundaswamy says, “The issue of death of sloth bears has been discussed in every governing council meeting of BBP. Since most of the sloth bears are showing the symptoms of TB only at the advanced stage, it is becoming difficult to treat them. We are planning to seek advise from experts to check further death of bears. This disease is found only in the rescued bears and not in those which are found in forests”.
Bad Weather Executive Director of BBMP, Dr R Raju says, “We are doing our best to save the bears from TB. The infected bears have been quarantined to contain the spread of TB. Extreme weather condition has also aggravated problems for these bears.”