Dr Prayag and Meera Bhardwaj
Even as the world is battling to save the mankind from the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak – an animal keeper has transmitted Covid-19 to a captive tiger in a zoo. This is the first case of transmission from man to tiger and has been reported at Bronx Zoo [run by Wildlife Conservation Society] in New York. The tiger’s infection was confirmed by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory on Monday.
With some other big cats too showing symptoms – Nadia is reported to have been infected by an asymptomatic care-taker at the Zoo. The test which was done on this tiger was different from the one that is done on humans. In fact, the SOP is being developed now. The swab test of the tiger was not done in a lab meant for humans but was done in a veterinary lab.
Nadia reportedly underwent X-rays, an ultrasound and blood tests to try to figure out what was ailing her. They decided to test her for COVID-19 given the surge in cases in New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.
According to Paul Call, Bronx Zoo, chief veterinarian, one cannot send human samples to a vet lab, and at the same time – animal samples cannot be tested in human labs. Four tigers and three lions at this zoo are believed to have been infected by a zoo keeper. With the tiger testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 at Bronx Zoo – it is a hard and testing time for many Zoological parks across the world.
Earlier, Covid-19 was also reported to have been transmitted from man to a host of smaller felids – a couple of dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium.
Meanwhile, reacting fast to the unwelcome developments in the spread of COVID-29 to big cats – the Central Zoo Authority [CZA] as also the National Tiger Conservation Authority [NTCA] of India have announced a series of measures to avert this deadly disease in both captive and wild tigers.
India is home to thousands of captive tigers and other big cats and they are housed in zoological parks and rehabilitation centres across the country. If some are conflict animals others are old and infirm while some have been bred in the zoos. With the Bronx tiger afflicted with Covid-19, the Central Zoo Authority has come out with guidelines for all zoological parks.
In an advisory to all chief wildlife wardens of the country, Dr S P Yadav, member secretary, Central Zoo Authority said, “Zoos are advised to coordinate with designated nodal agencies responsible for public health response and permit screening, testing and surveillance and diagnostic samples as and when required by nodal agencies. The designated animal health institutes are:NIHSAD, Bhopal, NRCE, Hisar and CADRAD and IVRI, Barielly.”
ADVISORY FOR ZOOS
*To maintain highest alert
* Watch animals 24×7
* Look for symptoms through CCTV
* Look for abnormal behavior/symptoms
* Handlers/keepers should not be allowed without safety gear – PPE
* Isolate and quarantine sick animals
* Least contact with animals while feeding
* Cat, Ferret and mammals to be carefully monitored
* Fortnightly samples of suspected cases to be sent to designated institutes for Covid-19 testing
* Follow all bio-containment and safety measures when handling this high risk pathogen as per ICMR guidelines
* All zoo personnel to adhere to safety and dis-infection protocol as per GOI guidelines
Now with the Central Zoo Authority and NTCA coming with an advisory for the protection of tigers in the zoos as also in the wild – all personnel and vets have to gear up with the safety measures before the deadly virus can show its presence especially in zoo animals. Presently, all zoological parks with its safaris as also tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries are shut for public viewing – in view of the lockdown. Therefore, the zoo and forest authorities can train their staff and provide the requisite PPE for vets and handling staff.
India is home to the largest wild tiger population  in the world and so all the tiger range states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have been directed to implement a slew of measures to protect the big cats in the wild. The NTCA has asked the chief wildlife wardens to gear up their front line staff as well as veterinary officials engaged in monitoring tiger mortality to detect and prevent the spread of this disease in wild tigers.
“Being a notifiable disease any positive case needs to be reported to the NTCA for communication to authorities. We have requested our Regional Offices to monitor the situation,” added Dr Vaibhav Mathur, Assistant Inspector General of Forests. “Owing to the communicable and zoonotic nature of the disease, we have asked the tiger range states to take the following measures.”
MEASURES FOR TACKLING COVID-19 IN WILD TIGERS
· Observe tigers for visible symptoms either directly or through camera images
· Any personnel handling in man-tiger conflicts or capture operations should be Covid negative
· Vets carrying out postmortem & collection of samples should safeguard oneself with PPE
· As nCoV affects gastrointestinal systems in felids requisite correlation should be made for the virus type in consultation with state veterinary department
· Differential diagnosis with Feline Infectious Rhino-Tracheitis needs to be made as similar respiratory symptoms may be observed
· For Covid-19 diagnosis all the samples is to be sent to ICAR approved labs
THE DEADLY VIRAL SPREAD
How did it all start in China? According to present available (still to be confirmed) scientific studies and deductions, the SARS-COV-2 Virus has been transmitted from bats [Huanan Seafood Market, Wuhan, Hubei province of China] to Pangolins [an intermediate host] and finally to man. Even in the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, eating and hunting of wild animals led to the viral transmission. The SARS-COV-1 virus spread from bats [Guangdong Wet Markets selling a host of wildlife meat] to Civet Cats and finally to humans.
SARS-CoV-2 is potentially an evolving virus strain which is known to cross species barriers. In fact, novel Coronaviruses have shown their ability to move from wildlife to domestic animals or to humans and then humans to wildlife. But from domestic animals or pets to humans – it has not been found.
Regarding Covid-19 susceptibility for pets and domestic animals – if you have tested positive for this deadly virus, restrict contact with your pets like dogs and cats in the same way as you would with humans. But if one does not have any Covid-19 symptoms, then one can touch or look after their pets as usual as per the new veterinary guidelines of AVMA of America.
Many fear from their pets and there are some some people abandoning their Pets. Kindly understand that there is NO EVIDENCE that pets (dogs, cats or other animals) can transmit COVID-19 to humans. There is no need to PANIC. Pet animals under human care need all our love and affection as they cannot survive on their own.
India has a number of zoos and protected areas.
✓ 104 National Parks
✓ 551 Wild Life Sanctuaries
✓ 50 Tiger Reserves
✓ 511 Zoos
✓ 32 Elephant Reserves
✓ 72 Bird Sanctuaries
✓ 37 Wetlands of International Importance
✓ 18 Biosphere Reserves