Avian Influenza: Pilikula Biological Park steps up surveillance

Rescue centre stopped accepting birds for treatment in Oct following Kerala scare

Following the closure of Mysuru’s Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens for an entire month after six free-range and migratory birds died of Avian Influenza there, authorities at the Pilikula Biological Park here have decided to step up surveillance.

When DH did a reality check on Wednesday, a box-like pit was being dug for foot dips at the main entrance. The pit will be filled with disinfectants mixed with water to enable visitors to dip their feet, with their footwear on, before entering the menagerie. Similarly, a trench will be dug at the service gate to be filled with disinfectants to check the spread of viruses through vehicle tyres.

The park’s executive director, H Jayaprakash Bhandary, said, “The open area with ducks and geese on the right side of the entrance will be covered with nets to prevent migratory birds from mixing with them. Other bird enclosures are already covered by permanent meshes and coverings on the top.”

Bhandary said the zoo was put under surveillance in October right after the particular Avian Influenza virus was found in ducks in Alapuzzha district of Kerala.

Animal handlers have been specifically told to report every bird death or inactivity. The zoo has 200-odd species of birds and pheasants. The 10-acre lake outside the zoo also attracts a large number of free-range and migratory birds, he added.

Bhandary said a duck was found dead near the boating point 20 days ago. The viscera was sent for tests at the district laboratory at Bejai, run by the Department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services. The tests for virus turned negative. In another incident, a spoonbill died of old age in the zoo, a medical examination showed.

Animal handlers have also been told not to deal with any birds, alive or dead, barehanded in case of suspicion. They have to inform veterinarians for further action. That apart, birds’ faecal and water samples (collected from the waterbody in the park) are sent for tests as an extended measure, he added.

In another measure, the rescue centre in the zoo stopped taking birds, irrespective of the species, for treatment three months among. It was treating injured birds rescued by the public, besides animals and reptiles.

Vikram Lobo, senior scientific officer at the zoo, said, “Taking preventive steps is inevitable as the menagerie has 38 species of birds, including pheasants, ducks, cormorants, egrets and herons.”

On average, 3,000-4,000 people visit the zoo every day during the season. The off season sees around 1,000 footfall.

Dr T Thippeswamy, deputy director of the Department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services, Dakshina Kannada, said a meeting with representatives of poultry farms and Pilikula Biological Park was held soon after the alert from Kerala. As per the action plan, veterinarians have been asked to randomly collect samples from poultry farms for tests. The district has 1,500-2000 poultry farmers.

The department has also asked farmers to alert it to suspicious deaths of winged species in the fields. Meanwhile, the department has procured personal protective equipment to meet any eventuality of people getting infected with the virus. The Forest Department, which is the custodian of waterbodies that attract migratory birds, has also been instructed to be on high alert.

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