The aftermath of canine distemper virus at Guwahati Zoo
GUWAHATI: In August 2018, 12 animals had died at the Assam State Zoo in Guwahati due to an outbreak of a disease called canine distemper virus (CDV). It is a viral disease that affects a number of animal species, including domestic and wild animals, especially canines and felines such as dogs, coyotes, foxes, pandas, wolves etc. Canine distemper is a disease that does not have a cure once an animal is infected with it. The zoo lost 9 jackals, 2 leopard cats and 1 jungle cat due to the outbreak.
“Now we’ve brought the disease under control and hope that there will be no more casualties in the near future but we can’t be sure. To say that the virus is 100 percent eliminated, the only way to know that for sure is if no other animal dies out of CDV in the next 5 months,” said Tejas Mariswamy, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) at the Assam State Zoo.
The DFO explained that when animals are infected with this disease, they are isolated from other animals in the zoo and put in quarantine for strict disinfection so that it does not spread. For three-four months, extreme precaution is taken for the control of the disease and the welfare of the animals.
“This disease is very easy to transmit. If someone has a pet dog at home or if they have touched a street dog and they come to visit the park, the disease might spread. Since it is a viral disease, infected air can also cause it,” said Mariswamy.
In general, animal deaths in the zoo either happen because of infighting or natural causes. On an average, the zoo loses about 6-8 percent of its animals due to natural causes.
Animal exchange program at the zoo: Why and how it works
This year, the Assam State Zoo in Guwahati had four animal exchange programs. They bought in a male tiger, peacocks and pheasants from Darjeeling zoo, Capped Langur from Nagaland zoo, two ostriches and two hyenas from Ranchi zoo.
“If a zoo in any state of the country wants to take part in the animal-exchange program, the proposal first goes to the Central Zoo Authority in Delhi and if they approve the exchange, then the respective zoos can go ahead with the process,” said Tejas Mariswamy, DFO of the Assam State Zoo.
All these proposals for the exchange are sent from the office of the DFO through the Chief Wildlife Warden’s (CWLW) office, who is a statutory authority under the Wildlife Protection Act. They head the Wildlife Wing of the department and exercise full control over the protected areas (PAs) within a state.
In most cases, these animal exchange programs are approved. However, if the proposal for the exchange program is not accepted by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), the respective zoo authorities can send the proposal again after they have meet all obligations listed by the zoo authorities.
Moving on to the reason for the exchange, different zoos in the country exchange animals on a regular basis because of two reasons. Firstly, they have to ensure that the bloodline of animals is changed so that there is no risk of inbreeding and secondly, it is for the zoo’s animal collection, Mariswamy explained.
“Even if we have a sufficient number of a species of animals, we have to exchange them at some point in time because changing the bloodline is very important. For example, in the Mysore zoo, they have sufficient numbers of leopard cats, but they still took in more cats so that the bloodline could be purified,” said Mariswamy.
When asked if the Assam State Zoo in Guwahati keeps a record or track of animals sent from the zoo, Mariswamy explained that they do keep check when it is a Schedule 1 mammal.
“The zoo has a stud book for mammals that fall under the Schedule 1 animal list. We make note of whether the animal has been partnered with someone, if they have given birth, their lineage and whatever else details we can get,” said Mariswamy.
Some animals included in the Schedule 1 mammals’ list include the leopard cat, Indian elephant, Hoolock Gibbon, black leopard, Indian one-horned rhinoceros, pygmy hog, Bengal tiger, jackal, Indian lion and many more. There are a total number of 42 animals on the list.