TB, silent killer of sloth bears

No proper diagnostic kit to detect the disease in initial stages

TB, silent killer of sloth bears

Tuberculosis (TB) seems to have been a major killer of the rescued sloth bears at the Bannerghatta Biological Park Rescue Centre in Bangalore.

More than two dozen of them have died due to the disease over the last two years. Worst, vets are struggling to check the increasing deaths due to lack of proper diagnostic kits.

Wildlife SOS veterinarians, who are the caretakers of the bears, point out that of the 108 animals that were housed at the centre, 27 had died in the past two years.

At present, there are 81 bears, but nine of them have been diagnosed with TB. This was proved after a series of eight tests were conducted on them. 

In the past, many bears tested negative for TB. But, when these animals died, their postmortem revealed that they had died of TB. Going by this, vets now fear that the remaining 72 bears that have been tested negative for TB, too could have been infected, though they are not showing such signs.

“This has been happening due to the absence of proper dedicated TB diagnostic kits. Though the problem was been raised repeatedly with officials and ministers, nothing has been done to address it. The bears show no symptoms of the disease until they reach terminal stages. This is very strange,” said Arun Sha, wildlife veterinary officer with Wildlife SOS.

The bears, which were rescued from Kalandars over the years, were brought to the BBP Rescue Centre for rehabilitation. Visitors see them at the Sloth Bear Safari during their zoo visit. 

Sha said the technical note, ‘TB in rescued Sloth Bears at Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre, Bangalore,’ prepared by Dr C Renukaprasad, who was the director of Institute of Animal Health and Veterinary Biologicals, still holds good.

The note, which was prepared in 2012, pointed out that TB is a common problem among many species in zoos and captive animals. There is no diagnostic kit available to test the disease. 

Unlike in humans where the symptoms described by patients can assist in the  diagnosis, the bears do not manifest such symptoms till the disease reaches advanced stages. In many cases, the disease is detected or confirmed after postmortem.

R S Suresh, Member Secretary, Zoo Authority of Karnataka, said: “As on today there has been no intervention in this regard and slaughtering the animal is the only solution. Besides, there are no standard tests for diagnosing the disease. This is because veterinary science has not advanced like human sciences.”

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