Context: Zoos in India are on high alert after the United States (USA) Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories has confirmed SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) in a Tiger housed in the Bronx Zoo, New York.

Advisory to zoos:

  • Taking cognizance, the Central Zoo Authority under Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has advised Zoos in the country 
    • to remain on highest alertness, 
    • watch animals on 24X7 basis, using CCTV for any abnormal behavior/symptoms, 
    • keepers/handlers not to be allowed in the vicinity without safety gear preferably PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), 
    • isolate & quarantine sick animals, and have least contact while providing feed to animals.
    • follow all bio-containment and safety measures required to handle this high risk pathogen as per the national / ICMR guidelines
  • The advisory further stated that Mammals like carnivores, especially cats, ferrets and primates to be carefully monitored.
  • The fortnightly samples of suspect cases to be sent to the designated animal health institutes to initiate COVID-19 testing:
  1. National Institute of High Security Animal Disease (NIHSAD), Bhopal, MP
  2. National Research Centre on Equines (NRCE), Hisar, Haryana.
  3. Centre for Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic (CADRAD), Indian Veterinary Research Institute, (IVRI), Izatnagar, Bareilly, UP.
  • Further, zoos are advised to coordinate with designated nodal agencies of the Government responsible for public health response and permit screening, testing and surveillance and diagnostic samples as and when required by the nodal agency.


What puzzling authorities in India?

  • The spectre of COVID-19 has made its appearance in one of India’s most storied tiger reserves - the Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR), after a 10-year-old ailing male tiger succumbed to a respiratory illness recently.
  • Officials in the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) are puzzling on whether the tiger should be tested for the novel coronavirus disease.


Are cats at particular risk?

Can humans infect animals:

  • The Corona virus came from an animal source and mutated. 
  • Humans have since been infecting humans, and it is theoretically possible for the virus to mutate again to survive in certain species after being transmitted by humans. 
  • Virus mutation: In biology, a mutation is an alteration in the nucleotide sequence of the genome of an organism, virus, or extrachromosomal DNA.
    • For a virus to infect a new host, some or all protein “keys” may need to be modified. These modifications, called “mutations”, can occur within the old host, the new one, or both.

What about domestic animals?

There have been a handful of cases of pets being infected, the indications are they caught it from humans. Apart from dogs, there has been a domestic cat, catching the virus in Belgium.

So, are cats at higher risk than dogs?

  • According to Chinese researchers, when inoculated cats with the novel coronavirus, placed alongside uninfected cats, found that cats can transmit the virus to one other
  • The good news is the virus replicates poorly in dogs. 
  • There has been no evidence about cats infecting humans either.

Why are felines more susceptible?

  • SARS-CoV2 infects respiratory cells after entering through a protein(Called ACE2), which lies on the surface of the cells.
  • The protein in felines resembles ACE2 in humans.


Central Zoo Authority(CZA)

  • Central Zoo Authority is a statutory body whose main objective is to enforce minimum standards and norms for upkeep and health care of animals in India zoos.
  • Zoos are regulated as per the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and are guided by the National Zoo Policy, 1992. 
  • The Wildlife (Protection) act was amended in 1991 to establish the Central Zoo Authority.

National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) 

  • It is a statutory body constituted under the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006. 
  • It was recommended by the Tiger Task Force. 
  • It is responsible for all the measures and actions taken under the project tiger for the conservation of the tiger. 
  • Minister for Environment and Forests is its chairperson and Minister of State for Environment and Forests is the vice-chairperson. 
  • The NTCA or Project Tiger also conducts the country level assessment of the status of tiger, co-predators, prey and habitat once every four years. It is done using the refined methodology, as approved by the Tiger Task Force.