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Shooting down the killer virus at zoo

Staff Reporter
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good aim:Zoo officials prepare to vaccinate animals at the Thiruvananthapuram zoo on Wednesday to keep them safe from the virus causing foot-and-mouth disease.
good aim:Zoo officials prepare to vaccinate animals at the Thiruvananthapuram zoo on Wednesday to keep them safe from the virus causing foot-and-mouth disease.

A soundless shot, and a gaur, barely a year old, dashed out of its enclosure at the city zoo, looking offended. On one of its hind legs was the bright pink end of a needle, the mark of a successful attempt by the zoo authorities in their efforts to make the cloven-hoofed animals here safe from the virus causing foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

Zoo veterinarian Jacob Alexander spent most of his day sprinting up to the laboratory at the zoo and back to the enclosures for every single shot needed to be made. He succeeded in vaccinating 10 animals, including eight gaurs and two nilgais (a large Indian antelope).

The outbreak of the disease caused by feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) was completely unexpected, fatally infecting two leopard cubs here. The members of an expert committee, who held a meeting here on Monday, suggested that the virus probably snuck into the zoo through feral cats or human beings exposed to domestic cats carrying the pathogen. This feline equivalent of the deadly viral disease of FMD — which affects only animals such as cattle, deer, and bison — was dealt with and further casualties prevented only because of the timely intervention by the officials here.

The zoo vet, along with keepers have, quite literally, armed themselves with tranquiliser guns they procured over a year ago from abroad to check the FMD virus.

The imported equipment, albeit expensive, has proved to be most effective way to immunise the animals here. The Raksha-Ovac vaccine that offers protection to cattle, buffaloes, and sheep is filled into the syringe darts and then patiently administered.

The vicious virus is no stranger to the city zoo. In 2007, probably one of the darkest phases in the history of the zoo, the entire population of mithun (an ox-like animal) was wiped out and several blackbuck deer died as well. The zoo had to be shut down for over two weeks for visitors as zoo officials went into overdrive in their attempt to prevent the disease from spreading to the giraffe, hippo, and the other deer species.

New hippo calf

Meanwhile, eight-year-old hippopotamus Bindu gave birth to a calf on Wednesday morning. This comes close after the death of the hippo calf Toto, who lived for just two weeks. Feeding of the new calf has been described irregular, but the zoo vet has assigned a staff member to keep a close watch on the animal at night as well. There are eight hippos in the zoo now.

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