Delhi Zoo officials said that Kalpana, who was the oldest tigress there, fell ill on Tuesday and had stopped eating. She was shifted to an isolation cage for examination, but she died on Wednesday at 6.30 pm.(AP file photo. Representative image)
Delhi Zoo officials said that Kalpana, who was the oldest tigress there, fell ill on Tuesday and had stopped eating. She was shifted to an isolation cage for examination, but she died on Wednesday at 6.30 pm.(AP file photo. Representative image)

Delhi Zoo’s oldest tiger dies of renal failure, tests negative for Covid-19

India is home to 2,967 tigers, the most in the world. While zoos have been shut since the lockdown began, the New York incident prompted them to be on high alert.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Soumya Pillai
UPDATED ON APR 25, 2020 01:31 AM IST

A 14-year-old Royal Bengal tigress died in the Delhi zoo on Wednesday due to kidney failure and not due to the coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 that causes Covid-19, zoo officials said on Friday. Activists and experts, however, alleged lapses in testing and disposing of the carcass.

Delhi Zoo officials said that Kalpana, who was the oldest tigress there, fell ill on Tuesday and had stopped eating. She was shifted to an isolation cage for examination, but she died on Wednesday at 6.30 pm. The autopsy report confirmed renal failure, said its director Suneesh Buxy.

On April 5, a Malayan tiger had tested positive for the virus in New York’s Bronx Zoo. On April 22, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) that runs the zoo reported that four more tigers and three lions had also tested positive. In that case, the animals are believed to have caught the disease from a zoo employee. One tiger was also asymptomatic, it had reported.

India is home to 2,967 tigers, the most in the world. While zoos have been shut since the lockdown began, the New York incident prompted them to be on high alert.

“The carcass was cremated on Thursday following directions to minimise human-animal interface,” a Delhi zoo official confirmed on Friday. “Initial findings revealed high creatinine, which indicates that the filtration rate of her kidneys was inadequate.”

Officials said her samples were sent to Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) in Bareilly to rule out any possibility of the coronavirus infection. “The central zoo authority (CZA) has taken a proactive step to check if there was a Covid-19 connection,” said Soumitro Dasgupta, inspector general of forests.

By Friday evening, the results came back negative. “As such there were no symptoms or external conditions to suspect that her death is due to Covid-19. However, as per CZA advisory issued in this regard, samples had been collected after ensuring all bio-security measures and were sent to IVRI. Later, IVRI has confirmed that tigress Kalpana was negative for Covid-19,” read a government press release.

Experts, however, suspect lapses. CZA data shows that the mortality rate of animals in the Delhi Zoo in the year 2018-19 was 15.21%, highest among all zoos in India.

Dr. D N Singh, former member secretary of CZA and former director of the zoo, said that protocol was not followed after the death of the animal. He alleged that the carcass of the animal was disposed of without the supervision of a senior official, which is a violation of the Recognition of Zoo Rules, 2009. “Perhaps officers were scared of Covid-19 in view of infection reports in seven animals in the Bronx Zoo (in New York). That is why they did not go near the tigress when she was reported sick or even when the carcass was disposed of on April 23,” Singh said.

Animal rights activist Sangeeta Dogra alleged that only blood samples of the animal were sent for testing. WCS said they had tested the faecal samples of the animals.

“The body was disposed of in a hurry. The CZA has not sent Kalpana’s nasopharyngeal (connected to the nasal cavity) or oreopharyngeal (mouth and pharynx) swab samples that are required to test for Covid-19. They have eliminated the carcass to suppress facts of her death,” Dogra said.

IVRI did not clarify details of the samples sent to them.

Responding to the allegations, Delhi Zoo director Buxy said that all procedures were followed. “Senior vets were consulted over video conferencing and three vets were attending to her 24x7. The IVRI report clearly mentioned that the death was caused due to old age and renal failure. She was the oldest cat of the zoo,” Buxy said.

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