New Delhi: Amid reports of a US zoo tiger found coronavirus positive, India’s apex tiger conservation body, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has swung into action and has asked all tiger range states to keep an eye over big cats and immediately report to authorities, if anyone of them are found having COVID-19 symptoms.
The NTCA has alerted chief wildlife wardens of all tiger forest ranges shortly after the Union Ministry of Environment advised states to curb human visits to and movements in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as precautionary measures against the transmission of infection from humans to animals.
The environment ministry has asked the states to gear up frontline staff as well as veterinary officials to prevent the spread of the disease among tigers owing to the ‘zoonotic’ nature of COVID-19.
“I am directed to inform that owing to the communicable and zoonotic nature of the coronavirus, following actions need to be taken to avert the disease in wild tigers in India,” said Vaibhav C Mathur, NTCA’s assistant inspector general of forests
“Tigers may be observed 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 through camera trap images for visible symptoms,” Mathur added.
Mathur also said it should be ensured that ‘personnel who handle tigers in human-tiger negative interactions and translocation operations be ascertained to be coronavirus negative’. The staff should also take due precaution as advised by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare from time to time.
“For COVID-19 diagnosis as well as differential diagnoses and characterisation as highlighted above, samples may be sent to ICAR-approved laboratories as per the enclosure,” the NTCA said in a statement.
“It is, hence, requested to gear up the front line staff as well as veterinary officials engaged in monitoring tiger mortality in areas under your jurisdiction to detect the disease and prevent its spread in tigers in the wild. Being a notifiable disease, any positive case needs to be reported immediately to the NTCA for onward transmission to the authorities concerned,” the tiger body added.
As coronavirus is known to affect gastrointestinal system in felines, requisite correlation may be made for characterizing the virus type in consultation with the state veterinary department. “Differential diagnosis with feline infectious rhino-tracheitis needs to be made as similar respiratory symptoms may be observed,” the NTCA stated.