Amid reports of a tiger housed at the Bronx Zoo in New York getting infected with COVID-19, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) Monday issued instructions to Chief Wildlife Wardens across India to increase levels of alertness and carefully monitor mammals like carnivores especially cat, ferret and primates.
Accordingly, the Chhatbir Zoo — the biggest zoo in Punjab and the region — has restricted human to human and human to animal contact within the zoo premises.
Around 1,400 animals belonging to 120 species are housed in the Chhatbir Zoo and seven out of these are tigers. The zoo has been closed for the visitors since March 16. Reports suggest that tiger at Bronx Zoo got infected from one of its attendants, who had tested positive for COVID-19.
The CZA directions state that zoos in the country should watch animals 24X7 using CCTV for any abnormal behaviour or symptoms and that keepers and handlers should not be allowed in the vicinity without safety gear. The CZA adds that apart from isolating sick animals, there should be least contact while feeding them.
The National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases, Bhopal, National Research Centre on Equines, Hisar and Centre for Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly have been identified for sending samples of suspected cases fortnightly.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Field Director of Chhatbir Zoo, M Sudhagar, said that that adequate protective measures are being taken not only in the zoo premises but also in the surrounding village.
“We are on alert. We had minimized the human-animal contact in the zoo as the coronavirus threat emerged in the early days of March. But from today we have decided that only one man will serve the food to one animal in one time. And when food like beef/fish/greens will be placed in the enclosure, the animal will not present in the same enclosure,” he said.
A batch of 23 zoo keepers out of around 70 was selected for serving food to the animals. According to CZA guidelines, members of big cat family – lion, tiger, leopard – and primates including monkey, macaque, are prone to COVID-19 infection, which can travel from human to human and human to animals.
The selected 23 keepers have been instructed to not travel too far from the zoo. These keepers along with their families are residing at nearby village Chhat and in government colony located within the zoo premises. A health record of these along with their family members is being prepared.
The wildlife division of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has also issued directions Monday directing that a task force/rapid action force with field managers, veterinary doctors and frontline staff should be set up. The zoos have also been asked to appoint a Nodal officer for swift management of any cases noticed.
Zoo officials say that after the nationwide lockdown owing to COVID-19, the supply of tons of fish for birds is being procured locally instead of from Saharanpur, the green feed including vegetables, fruits, fodder, green-grass for herbivores is being procured within the 4-5 km radius of zoo.
The supply of 160 kg beef, which procured locally, is unaffected. Though initially there were some problems for one or two days after the nationwide lockdown was introduced, now everything has streamlined.
Dr M P Singh, Senior Veterinary Officer, Chhatbir Zoo, said, “According to the reports, COVID-19 is being spread among animals through humans. We have minimized the human intervention in the zoo. Hand sanitisers, gloves etc were given to all staff members. No one is allowed to go too close to any animal. Antibiotic liquid mixed in the water is placed at all entry/exit points of zoo so if a vehicle enters the zoo carrying food etc., the wheels get cleaned automatically.”
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