Suspected TB killing bears at Bannerghatta

Suspected TB killing bears at Bannerghatta

A strange infection that is believed to be causing human tuberculosis (TB) in bears has resulted in the death of a 14-year-old sloth bear Vivek and put lives of another 10 bears in critical condition at the Bear Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BRRC) at the Wildlife SOS in Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP).

Officials at BBP on Sunday said that Vivek died of the disease around 9:15 am, two days after 15-year-old Yamini died of TB.

Vivek was under treatment for three months.

A total of nine bears have been reported dead since November 2010 at the centre.
“Ten more bears, all in the age-group of 15-25 years, are critical. Despite strenuous efforts, veterinary doctors have been failing to accurately diagnose the disease. The results vary, which is proving to be costly,” the in-house Wildlife Vet, Arun A Sha, told Deccan Herald.

The problem, he said, is that the animals did not show symptoms of the disease. “But those who are in a critical condition have lost their appetite and consume very little milk and porridge. The doctors are just unable to determine and diagnose the disease at an early stage, and we are unable to save the animals.

On Yamini’s post-mortem report, Sha said: “As long as she lived, she showed no symptoms, but her post-mortem revealed that her lungs were filled with pus. Even the 10 bears who are in critical condition haven’t shown symptoms.” Even blood tests and culturing has not been able to determine the disease, he said.

A team of doctors from the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), Thiruvananthapuram, visited BBP with five different testing kits, but in vain. “Only one of the kits found some positive cases,” one of the vet researchers said.  They have recommended redrawing blood samples and fresh culturing of the samples, including a complete evaluation.

However, some of the positive cases as found by the RGCB team were found to be inaccurate when a team from the International Animal Rescue, UK, conducted its tests; they found the cases to be negative. “As a practice, we generally conduct a full medical examination when the animals are brought into the facility. We found no case of TB in any of these animals. There were cases of viral hepatitis, rabies and rat fever and we treated all of this,” one of the authorities said.

According to the authorities, a decision has been taken to quarantine the animals to avoid spread of the disease. However, Sha said that the vets have not been able to determine if the infection is spreading from animals. “We are doing this as a precautionary measure”.

Sha suspected that the first case could have been from one of the bears transferred from Purulia Bear Rescue Centre, West Bengal. “About 22 bears were transferred from Purulia due to Maoist threat in 2010, and the deaths have been reported ever since,” he added.

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