The frisky twin leopard cubs, Sarang and Sarishma, and their dignified mother Sheena, were among the prized collection of felines that Thiruvananthapuram Zoo boasted of. Even the most casual of visitors felt drawn towards the open enclosure of the zoo where they were housed.

On Saturday morning, however, this picture perfect scene markedly changed when Sarishma was found to have gone too far along a viral disease overnight for the Zoo staff to bring her back.

The authorities had planned quite a bash for her and her twin Sarang’s first birthday next month. Sarang is now under close observation and care at the Zoo hospital, having been diagnosed with the same symptoms of the feline panleukopenia virus (FPV).

Since the sole Zoo veterinarian Jacob Alexander is specialised in pathology and disease diagnosis, he along with the support of two officers from the Chief Disease Investigation centre at Palode, was able to ascertain the cause immediately using the equipment at the in-house laboratory at the zoo.

On Sunday, all felines were administered the booster dose which will render them weak but ensures some barrier against the contagious pathogen. The disease is described as the equivalent of AIDS, for it attacks the immune system of felines. Sarang was also given doses of antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection when the animal is so vulnerable.

No food intake

What is worrying the vet now is that the cub still has not begun eating. Adults have a lower mortality rate, so Sheena appears in marginally better shape than her cub, having even consumed two pieces of meat on Sunday. Asha, the youngest cub born in January, has also been given the booster dose even though the vaccination timetable dictates otherwise.

Prompt actions by authorities have stemmed the possibility of an epidemic, reminiscent of a tragedy that had befallen the Nandankanan zoo in Orissa in 2000.

Another viral disease called Trypanosomiasis had claimed the lives of 11 tigers there. In fact, this same deadly disease had threatened the lives in the city zoo here just last year when a tiger called Rahul was diagnosed with it. But effective and immediate steps ensured that there were no casualties at all.

The rainy season is seen as major contributing factor, as it facilitates the breeding of flies. Such virulent pathogens are transmitted this way, says Dr. Alexander, also citing the example of a canine distemper outbreak during the November rains in 2011 when eight jackals died. Enclosures are being disinfected and cleaned thoroughly and vegetation being trimmed to stem the spread.

Thus far, the worst situation that the zoo has seen was in 2007 when an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) caused the zoo to be closed for over two weeks after FMD claimed the lives of several Mithuns, Blackbucks, and wild boars.

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