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Zoo TB deaths: strengthening of biosecurity measures mooted

SIAD report recommends testing staff, providing them protective gear

January 25, 2023 11:09 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:46 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram

There is little possibility of tuberculosis (TB) that has been causing the deaths of spotted deer and black buck in the city zoo spreading to visitors or animal keepers.

However, the staff would have to be tested for tubeculosis in the interests of their health and protective gear made mandatory for them, a report from the State Institute for Animal Diseases (SIAD), Palode, said.

On the directions of Minister for Zoos and Animal Husbandry J. Chinchurani, a three-member team from SIAD had visited the zoo on January 21 following the death of over 50 spotted deer and black buck there over the past 10 months.

The team’s report confirmed that there had been unnatural deaths in the zoo, and the tuberculosis infection in spotted deer and black buck had led to a spike in the death rate. Tuberculosis infection caused by ‘mycobacterium bovis’ was confirmed through various investigations at the SIAD and the College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mannuthy.

It believed that lack of space and increase in animal numbers in the zoo had contributed to the increase in tuberculosis infection.

The team observed that steps taken by the zoo authorities following the spread of tuberculosis were not enough and there was a need for adopting strict biosecurity measures.

Visitor exposure levels in the zoo were low. However, animal keepers had to be alerted and provided protective gear such as masks, gloves, and boots, and it had to be ensured that they were donning the safety equipment. Supervisory staff could be entrusted with this task, the team report said.

If need be, a change in entry protocol could be effected and masks made compulsory for visitors though the risk was low.

Infected spotted deer and black buck should be segregated. If the spread of infection could not be controlled, options for depopulation such as culling could be resorted to after discussions with higher authorities. The enclosures should be left vacant for six months.

As it could not be confirmed that African buffalo, gaur, sambar deer, and hog deer in enclosures near that of the spotted deer and the black buck had not been infected, it was imperative that they be kept under observation.

The SIAD team observed flaws in the waste disposal and waste treatment in enclosures and recommended that waste drains be renovated, more spaces for providing food and water arranged, and enclosures disinfected regularly.

It called for regulating the presence of rats, cats, and stray dogs that could act as carriers of infection in the zoo.

The report called for conducting awareness classes on tuberculosis for zoo staff.

As the zoo was listed under the category of big zoos, the services of another veterinary doctor as directed by the Central Zoo Authority should be made available, the report recommended.

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