The COVID-19 pandemic has made Ipra and Chipi VIPs again, nine years after they were rescued as cubs in December 2012.
Ipra and Chipi are Royal Bengal tigers, one of six at the Itanagar Biological Park or zoo. But they have features distinct from the striped cats found in India beyond where they were found — at 7,000 ft above sea near Anini in Upper Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh.
Also read |Pench tiger death raises COVID-19 fears
“The chances of infection of our tigers and three leopards are relatively less since the zoo is a bit far from the city. But we have been taking extra precaution after reading reports about the infection in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in the U.S .,” said Raya Flago, curator of the zoo.
The fear of possible infection is from domesticated dogs and cats let loose by people in the neighbourhood.
Mr. Flago said they were more worried about Ipra and Chipi, who have an “exotic” appearance and are more aggressive than the “normal-looking” Royal Bengal tigers in the zoo.
As the two tigers from Anini grew up, wildlife officials in Arunachal Pradesh noticed certain features that made them markedly different. They are larger than the other Royal Bengal tigers that were at least three years older, have a different skull shape, colour coding and black patches on their ear tips.
“Because of their distinctive features, we did not rule out the possibility of their being a subspecies of the Royal Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) or related to the Indochinese or Corbett’s tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) found in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand,” Mr. Flago told The Hindu .
But a genetic test by the Hyderabad-based Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in mid-2018 said they were Royal Bengal tigers.
The terrain and climatic conditions in the area where the two were found could have impacted their “non-Royal Bengal-like” features, officials said.
The Bronx case has also made the Assam State Zoo authorities intensify sanitising exercises. The zoo is located opposite a posh apartment complex across the road where a man tested positive for the coronavirus less than a week ago.
“We closed the zoo on March 16, banned exit of staff and entry of outsiders except for those bringing in food for animals. After the Bronx episode, we have been taking extra care of our 34 tigers, lions and leopards as well as the other animals,” the zoo’s Divisional Forest Officer Tejas Mariswamy said.
Pench tiger death raises COVID-19 fears Jacob Koshy NEW DELHI, APRIL 07, 2020 00:02 ISTUPDATED: APRIL 07, 2020 00:06 IST
The 10-year-old male tiger succumbed to a ‘respiratory illness’ last Saturday.
NTCA mulls test after a big cat tested positive for the virus in a U.S. zoo
The spectre of COVID-19 has made its appearance in one of India’s most storied tiger reserves. The death of a 10-year-old ailing male tiger, in the Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) — the country’s most munificent reserve —that succumbed to a ‘respiratory illness’ last Saturday would have been a routine affair.
But a report of a confirmed COVID-19 infection in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo, in New York, United States and advisories by divisions of the Environment Ministry that deal with the protection of the cats in zoos, as well as in Tiger Reserves has officials in the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)— the organisation that manages the protection of India’s 3,000-odd tigers — puzzling on whether the tiger should be tested for the novel coronavirus disease.
The people who handled the dead tiger and were involved in its post-mortem would be tested for the infection, PTR Field Director, Vikram Singh Parihar told The Hindu . The viscera samples collected as part of the standard protocol have been preserved and will be sent to the veterinary research college in Jabalpur as well as the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. “The animal came to the pond frequently for water possibly because it was running a high fever. We gave him antibiotics on Friday but that didn’t show much improvement. Finally, it died on Saturday morning. We still don’t have a confirmed cause of death,” he said.
Swabs from the throat and nose to test for rhinotracheitis, a viral infection that afflicts cats and causes respiratory illness were collected, an official at the NTCA, Delhi said. However, it was unlikely to be enough to test for COVID and given the remoteness of the forests and lockdown in effect, would likely degrade and be unsuitable for testing.
“We’ve also been approached by molecular biologists who’ve offered to conduct a DNA analysis and possibly unearth evidence of the virus,” Anup Kumar Nayak, Director General, NTCA said.
Officials said they had implemented measures to keep a watch out for COVID among tigers. On Monday, both the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the NTCA issued guidelines that require zoos to be on the “highest alert” and monitor animals on closed-circuit cameras 24/7 for “abnormal behaviour and symptoms.”
Officials manning the wildlife reserves said wild animals have a stronger immune system than captive animals. “But the threat is from domestic animals such as cattle in the fringe areas of the park,” said P. Sivakumar, Director of the Kaziranga National Park.