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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Covid in animals .. !! - Lions of Hyderabad zoo test positive !!

In Bahubali – there is a scene where Baahubali’s step brother and his nemesis showcases his enormous strength by fighting a big bull.  Rana  Daggubati displays brute force in taming a wild bull, which a dozen men could not tether ~ below the screen would scroll, ‘it is  computer graphics -  no animals were tortured’.  In Pammal  Sambandham,  Kamal as a stuntman would get into trouble when animal right activists would protest !    In Adimai Penn, MGR  fought a  real lion – which later days he kept as pet and after death is kept in MGR museum.  Much has changed since !

 lion from Junagadh zoo pictured by me earlier. 

It has changed so much that Walt Disney Pictures in 2019 film ‘The Lion King’  directed and produced by Jon Favreau, announced that it is photorealistic computer-animated remake of Disney's traditionally animated 1994 film of the same name.  The plot follows Simba, a young lion who must embrace his role as the rightful king of his native land following the murder of his father, Mufasa, at the hands of his uncle, Scar.

Humans killing animals is nothing new ! – they would call it sport or would call for their own use.  In 2020, Denmark culled 17 million minks in response to outbreaks at more than 200 mink farms.  The Danish government spared no mink, killing infected and healthy animals, alike. "We would rather go a step too far than take a step too little to combat Covid-19,” the country’s foreign minister Jeppe Kofod said at a press conference in early November 2020. The country's prime minister later apologized and its food and agriculture minister stepped down when the order to kill the animals was declared illegal. The story, however, did not end there.  After that cruel mass slaughter, hundreds of mink carcasses  emerged from their graves.  No ghosts though !  - buried in shallow pits and trenches in Western Denmark, the dead minks were pushed out of the ground by gas emitted from their decomposing bodies, leading to more outrage and concern.

Humans, ferrets, cats, civets and dogs are the animals most susceptible to infection with the new coronavirus, researchers say. The analysis of 10 species also found that ducks, rats, mice, pigs and chickens were less or not susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. For their study, the researchers used computer modeling to assess how the new coronavirus uses spike proteins on its surface to invade the cells of different animals. The main entry point on a cell's surface is the ACE2 receptor, which binds with the spike protein. People have a wide range of ACE2 variants, as do different species. Variants of the ACE2 receptor in humans, followed by ferrets, cats, dogs and civets, have the strongest binding to the spike protein on the new coronavirus. Mice, rats, chicken and ducks have poor binding, according to the researchers.

While this is all about pets – what about Zoo animals !!  - Eight Asiatic lions at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad  tested positive for the novel coronavirus, making it the first such case where an animal in the state has contracted the disease. Zoo authorities had decided to carry out RT-PCR tests on the lions after they began to show symptoms. According to sources, the zoo authorities noticed that the lions were found coughing and had nasal discharge. They had also reportedly noticed a loss of appetite. When the symptoms were brought to the notice of the zoo officials and the veterinarians, it was decided to get the lions tested for COVID-19.

Hyderabad’s Nehru Zoological Park has a total of 12 lions. Eight among them have been found positive for the virus. Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Director Rakesh Mishra told TNM that the same kits that are used for humans were used to test the big cats too. Mishra added that the samples collected from the lions were sequenced by CCMB and were found to belong to the A2a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. According to reports, the A2a variant was one of the most common variants found in the genomes of the virus analysed during the first wave. It has been speculated that other mutant variants —  like the double mutant variant and the N440K variant —  are driving the alarming second wave of COVID-19 in India. Mishra said that it was not these worrying newer mutant variants, but the older A2a variant, which was found in the samples from the Hyderabad lions.  While the source of infection is difficult to ascertain, Mishra said that it is possible that the animals may have contracted the virus from the caretakers or other humans who were in contact with them.

He added, “Infections in animals have been a concern, but people have tested and found that it’s not generally seen in cats or dogs. But we are going to do more extensive testing now and we’ll try to find out more information."   The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued a statement, saying, "Based on experience with zoo animals elsewhere in the world that have tested SARS-COV-2 positive last year, there is no factual evidence that animals can transmit the disease to humans any further."

The Hyderabad zoo has been closed to the public since May 2 in view of the rising cases of COVID-19 after an advisory from the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change, New Delhi to close all zoological parks, national parks, tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries for visitors. Based on the orders, it was decided that the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad, the Kakatiya Zoological Park in Warangal, the Kawal and Amrabad Tiger Reserves, and all national and wildlife sanctuaries in Telangana be shut as a precautionary measure to prevent spread of virus among wildlife. 

A senior official said the samples from the wild animals will be collected either by ‘Squeeze cage’ method or by tranquilising them. In the ‘squeeze cage’ method, the animal will be confined in a cage without any space so that it cannot move or resist while taking samples. The animal keepers taking care of lions have been provided with PPE kits even as moats are kept well ventilated and sanitized, a Telangana government press release said. A few of the staff members who tested positive of the virus were asked to remain in isolation even as 95 per cent of the employees of the zoo have been vaccinated.

Miles away, Russia has registered the world's first vaccine for animals against Covid-19, its agricultural regulator said on Wednesday, after tests showed it generated antibodies against the virus in dogs, cats, foxes and mink. Mass production of the vaccine, called Carnivac-Cov, can start in April, regulator Rosselkhoznadzor said.   The regulator said the vaccine would be able to protect vulnerable species and thwart viral mutations. Russia has so far only registered two cases of Covid-19 among animals, both in cats. Rosselkhoznadzor said Russian fur farms planned to buy the vaccine, along with businesses in Greece, Poland and Austria. Russia's fur farm industry accounts for around 3% of the global market, down from 30% in the Soviet era, according to the main trade body.

Interesting !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
7th May 2021.


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