Canine distemper virus outbreak in Vandalur zoo? One lion, deceased lioness Neela tests positive

CDV can be lethal with a fatality rate of 50 per cent in adult and 80 per cent in young animals.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

CHENNAI: After Covid-19, the endangered Asiatic lions in the famous Arignar Anna Zoological Park (AAZP), commonly called Vandalur Zoo, are facing a Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) scare. One lion and the deceased young lioness Neela were tested positive for the highly contagious CDV. Only a few years back, a CDV outbreak in the Gir forest in Gujarat had caused unprecedented casualty of Asiatic lions, triggering a crisis of sorts.    

The latest reports from ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute (ICAR-IVRI), Bareilly, reveal that a 19-year-old lion, Ragave, was tested positive for CDV, but negative for Covid-19. Environment secretary Supriya Sahu, who is closely monitoring the situation, told Express that Ragave was healthy and active with a normal appetite.

“He has been isolated and kept under observation. An expert team from Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (TANUVAS) is on the spot.”  The official said the sample of lioness Neela, which was under examination at IVRI, tested positive for CDV. 

‘CDV can be lethal; 80% fatality rate in young animals’

Vandalur Zoo director Debasis Jana said, “The IVRI was asked to test seven samples for SARS-CoV-2 only, but it has incidentally tested the samples for comorbidities also (though not requisitioned) and have found the samples of two lions Neela (dead) and Ragave (Covid negative) as positive for CDV. Ragave is healthy and active.” The official said IVRI has checked for comorbidities to decide a better treatment regimen for the accompanying animals. Zoo sources suggested that Neela has died due to Covid. “During Covid infection, the immunity goes down and other secondary infections are commonly noticed. The animals which were Covid positive, usually show positivity for various secondary pathogens which are commonly seen in human Covid also,” the IVRI wrote to the Vandalur Zoo.

When contacted, TANUVAS health director Dr G Dhinakar Raj, who is also a virus expert, said, “Based on the available clinical evidence and examination of the carcass by TANUVAS team, Neela must have died more due to Covid-19. The CDV must have been a comorbidity and an incidental finding. Because, in fatal cases involving CDV, the animal will typically have muscle twitching, seizures, lachrymation, strong respiratory, and digestive illness. Clinical manifestation of Neela is more towards Covid.” However, he warned that CDV can be lethal with a fatality rate of 50 per cent in adult and 80 per cent in young animals.

Lions not vaccinated against CDV
Express has reliably learnt that Vandalur Zoo has not vaccinated the lions or any other big cats against CDV. When contacted, the zoo authorities claimed, “CDV vaccination is not part of standards, guidelines and protocol prescribed by IVRI and Central Zoo Authority (CRZ) for Felids. But they are vaccinated against felid distemper.” The zoo has a stray dog population and CDV is common among dogs. TANUVAS health director Dhinakar Raj said it is very important for Vandalur Zoo to vaccinate the stray dogs present on the campus.


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