BENGALURU/NEW DELHI: With the first case of a wild animal, a tiger at a zoo in New York, testing Covid-19 positive, Indian authorities have swung into action, issuing directives to all national parks, zoos, tiger reserves and sanctuaries to minimise human-animal interactions, use of safety gear by the staff, isolation of sick animals and sending their samples for testing to three identified veterinary labs.
A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City has tested positive for the coronavirus, while several domestic animals have previously tested positive for the disease. But it is the first case of a wild animal getting infected, experts said. A recent Chinese study found that cats are susceptible to coronavirus and may infect each other.
The union environment ministry, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) wrote to states to take immediate preventive measures to stop the transmission and spread of the virus from humans to animals and vice versa at national parks, sanctuaries, tiger reserves and zoos. The Zoo Authority of Karnataka (ZAK) and forest department too held meetings with heads of all nine zoos and forest officials in the state to ascertain if measures were in place and to list items for testing and safety.
The forests of Karnataka have already been shut and will continue to remain closed until further orders. The NTCA stated that tigers must be observed for any symptoms directly and through camera traps for any visible signs; those handling tigers and their translocation should be tested negative and diligence should be followed while handling postmortem cases to record location, age and gender of animals. The CZA too asked zoos to be on high alert and monitor animals 24x7 using CCTV cameras for any abnormal behaviour or symptoms.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Karnataka, Sanjai Mohan said the cardinal principal is keen observation of all animals. The fear now is of the virus spreading from humans to animals, so extra precautions should be taken while managing conflict cases, especially of leopards.
ZAK Director BP Ravi told TNIE, “As a preventive measure, all nine zoos in Karnataka have been closed. There is no direct contact of animals with zookeepers. However, the staff strength has been curtailed and they have been told not to mingle and immediately report if any animal is not eating properly. Staffers who come from affected areas are told not to report for duty and their wages will also be not deducted.”
CZA Member-Secretary SP Yadav said that keepers and handlers in zoos should not be allowed in the vicinity of felines without the safety gear. “Mammals like carnivores, especially cats, ferrets and primates, to be carefully monitored and fortnightly samples of suspect cases to be sent to the designated animal health institute to initiate Covid-19 testing,” he has written to Chief Wildlife Wardens of all states.