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Zoo authorities urged to follow safety protocols

By Ajit Patowary

GUWAHATI, April 7 - The incident of a zoo tiger testing positive to novel coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo in the United States of America on April 5 last has rung alarm bells among the forest ministries and zoo authorities across the globe.

In India, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Central Zoo Authority have written to the Chief Wildlife Wardens of the States and Union Territories (UTs) to �remain on highest alert,� to take utmost precautionary measures and also to strictly adhere to the safety and disinfection protocol issued by the Government from time to time in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NTCA in its letter {F No. 15-38/2010-NTCA (Part) dated April 6, 2020} has advised the wildlife chiefs of the States/UTs to observe the tigers for symptoms consistent with COVID-19, such as respiratory signs of nasal discharge, coughing and laboured breathing through direct observation to the extent possible, besides observing through camera trap images for visible symptoms.

It further said that it should be ensured that personnel handling tigers in human-tiger negative interactions and translocation operations are confirmed as coronavirus negative. These people should adhere to the safety measures advised by the Union Health and Family Welfare Department from time to time.

Moreover, diligence needs to be exercised at the time of handling post-mortem cases to record location, age and sex of the animals and also at the time of collecting samples for coronavirus diagnosis in consultation with the State Veterinary officials. These personnel should protect themselves using appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it said.

In its letter {F No. 25-1/2002-CZA (Vol-II) (AK) 2469/B/2020 dated 06-04-2020}, the Central Zoo Authority stated that the zoo animals should be watched round the clock, using CCTV for any abnormal behaviour/symptoms. The keepers/handlers are not to be allowed in the vicinity of the animals without wearing safety gear, preferably PPE. The sick animals should be isolated and quarantined and there should be least contact with them while providing feed.

Mammals like carnivores, specially cat, ferret and primates are to be carefully monitored and fortnightly samples of the suspect cases are to be sent to the designated animal health institutes to initiate COVID-19 testing, following all bio-containment and safety measures required to handle this high-risk pathogen as per the national/Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines, it said.

The National Institute of High Security Animal Disease (NIHSAD), Bhopal, the National Research Centre on Equines (NRCE), Hisar and the Centre for Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic (CADRAD), Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Izatnagar, Bareilly are the designated animal health institutes named by the Central Zoo Authority for the purpose of conducting COVID-19 testing.

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