Guwahati zoo rhino dies of anthrax

  • Rahul Karmakar, Hindustan Times, Guwahati
  • |
  • Updated: Jan 22, 2008 17:26 IST

A male rhino died of suspected anthrax in the Assam State Zoo in Guwahati on Tuesday, Zoo authorities said on Tuesday.

The death comes barely 54 hours after poachers sawed the horns off two live rhinos in Kaziranga.

An airborne disease in the bird flu mould, anthrax — Greek for coal — is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis and is highly lethal in some forms.

“A 30-year-old male rhino collapsed suddenly and died around 5.30 am,” zoo DFO Narayan Mahanta told HT. “Clinical observations suggest it died of anthrax, but we need some time to be 100 per cent sure.”

The zoo authorities, however, have taken no chances in the wake of avian influenza outbreak in adjoining West Bengal. Since “autopsy cannot establish anthrax”, the rhino was buried at a “safe depth” within the zoo complex.

The death of the rhino leaves five more one-horned rhinos in the zoo, three males and two females that have been quarantined for anti-anthrax vaccination. “We have ample stock of this vaccine, and we have begun the inoculation exercise,” Mahanta said, adding he had asked the city administration to vaccinate all domesticated animals within a 2 km radius of the zoo.

Kamrup (Metro) deputy commissioner Prateek Hajela have alerted health and veterinary officials. "We have left it to them to identify the area within which all cattle, poultry and pets must be vaccinated following the rhino’s anthrax-induced death,” he said.

Anthrax, notably, is one of a few bacteria that can form long-lived spores. When the bacteria’s life cycle is threatened by factors such as lack of food after their host dies or by a change in temperature, they turn themselves into more or less dormant spores to wait for another host to continue their life cycle.

Anthrax spores have also been used as a biological warfare weapon. For instance, Gruinard Island in Scotland was rendered uninhabitable for 48 years after the British conducted bio-weapons trials with anthrax spores in 1942.


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