BHUBANESWAR: Anthrax outbreak in the buffer and fringe areas of Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) has prompted the Animal Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) to seek assistance from Bengaluru-based National Institute of Veterinary Epidemiology and Disease Informatics (NIVEDI).
A team from the ICAR-arm is expected to arrive next week to make an on-site inspection of pockets where elephant deaths have been reported, Joint Director of ADRI Dr Lokanath Behera said.
With about 12 elephants falling victim to anthrax in the last two years, experts from NIVEDI would look at the possible sources, both primary and secondary, while planning a strategy to contain exposure of the wild animals to the deadly bacteria.
Though ADRI has been conducting investigation into source of anthrax, it has been baffled by its recurrence because animal vaccination and sanitisation methods have not worked. Now, it is believed that the elephants have contracted the bacteria from water sources but narrowing down of the exact point or place has eluded the State institute.
The two latest deaths in Gudugudia range were attributed to elephants carrying the bacteria all the way from Jharkhand from where the jumbos migrate into the State. The STR had information about outbreak of anthrax among cattle of Jharkhand last year in April but after that, there has been no such reports.
While anthrax as a cause of death among elephants has come to light in the last year and a half, it is now believed that the deadly organism may have been existent and claiming lives even before that. “Similipal landscape had reported several cases of elephant deaths which were attributed to poisoning in the past but on the hindsight, we realise it could actually be anthrax,” said a senior officer.
As a matter of practice, veterinary officers collect viscera for detailed analysis in case of poisoning deaths, but lately, a more focused approach of analysing the cause has been adopted. While poisoning deaths accompany signs of struggle, diarrhoea and attempts by herds to save the fellow animal, investigators found that anthrax-contracted animals were found bleeding from orifices which provide prima facie evidence for the disease, like in the last two deaths.
In January, a team of NIVEDI had visited Similipal landscape to understand the problem but this time, it is likely to make an in-depth study.
The STR authorities, on their part, have already put in place a series of measures to ascertain the sources of anthrax. “We have already collected samples of 11 artificial salt licks and found that Basillus anthracis is not present. We have also collected samples from the 24 natural salt licks for examination,” Deputy Director, STR Ajit Satpathy said.
A major problem to tackle anthrax is that spores can remain in soil and survive under severe conditions since they are anaerobic in nature. Incineration of the dead cattle or elephants is a tough challenge in the peripheral areas while sanitisation through formaldehyde and lime deposits are being carried out.