Panel formed to review recent deaths in city zoo

In light of the recent outbreak of feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) that claimed the life of a second leopard cub, Asha, on Friday morning, a high-level committee has been formed to take stock of the situation at the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo.

The committee, comprising nine members, will be chaired by M.R. Saseendranath, head of the Department of Veterinary Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, following a directive by Minister for Museums and Zoo P.K. Jayalakshmi.

Apart from reviewing the FPV deaths, the committee will study other monsoon-related issues that have severely affected the zoo this year. With a few cloven-hoofed creatures such as the spotted deer developing foot infection as well, there is a need for expert investigation into measures that can be adopted to prevent such outbreaks. A biologist may be appointed, and since there is only one veterinarian to look after the entire zoo, the appointment of another full-time doctor will be considered, a zoo official said.

With the death of Sarishma last week, zoo officials were on tenterhooks waiting to see if her twin, Sarang, and mother, Sheena, who were with her in the same open enclosure would succumb to the aggressive pathogen. The other felines in the zoo were immediately administered booster doses to protect them from the disease, described as highly contagious.

Asha, born in January, was susceptible from the start as she had little defence against diseases at such a young age. On Thursday night, the cub took a turn for the worse when she began vomiting. Cub mortality is very high and despite the doctors’ efforts, the cub died on Friday morning. The post-mortem examination was conducted the same day by a team of five veterinarians, including the zoo vet Jacob Alexander and officials from the Chief Disease Investigation Office.

The good news is that Sarang is mostly out of danger. Despite the odds, the 11-month-old has miraculously pulled through, even consuming sizeable portions of meat on Friday. Officials said the critical period had passed, and the heavy doses of antibiotics and vitamins had helped.

The drastic step of administering a drug called Granulocyte Colony-stimulating Factor (G-CSF), normally given to humans to facilitate the growth of immune cells, worked wonders for the leopard cub. The immunity stimulating medication is believed to have hauled the cub out of the critical condition.