SARS scare grips Kaziranga
The SARS scare has gripped hundreds of people residing in the periphery of a wildlife sanctuary in Assam, with foreign tourists visiting the park without any screening.india Updated: May 01, 2003 19:40 IST
The SARS scare has gripped hundreds of people residing in the periphery of a wildlife sanctuary in Assam, with foreign tourists visiting the park without any screening.
Wildlife enthusiasts from Thailand, Israel, Russia and France have visited the Kaziranga National Park in eastern Assam, 220 km from the state's principal city of Guwahati, in the past fortnight.
"There is a great sense of apprehension among residents here, with no screening done on foreign tourists visiting the park," local legislator Jiten Gogoi told IANS.
"I am taking up the matter with the state health authorities to set up a medical camp for all tourists who come here to rule out SARS." The 430 sq km park boasts of 1,600 rhinos of the total world population of 2,300 one-horned rhinos, which are almost extinct. Kaziranga also has a large population of deer, bison, tiger, bear and endangered Asian elephants.
Park officials admit that no screening was done on foreign tourists. "Foreign tourists from various countries are visiting Kaziranga," park warden Amarendra Das said.
"We are not conducting any medical screening of the tourists for detection of possible cases of SARS." Park officials say they have not received any guidelines from the state government for preventing suspected SARS patients from visiting the sanctuary.
"Even if we know someone is sick we cannot ask him or her not to go inside the park on elephant back as we don't have any such instructions from the authorities," a park official said requesting anonymity.
"We are very worried about SARS spreading into the state through foreign tourists. But unless we get clear cut guidelines we are duty bound to play the role of a good host."
Wildlife experts say the area has become vulnerable, with foreign tourists visiting the park and then going to nearby villages as part of their travel itinerary.
"If some tourists carrying the disease pass it on to forest guards while on a safari inside the park, the consequences could be dangerous," said Anwaruddin Choudhury, a wildlife expert.
Local residents in Kaziranga are equally angry. "At a time when the world is grappling with the killer pneumonia and imposing strict travel guidelines, the Assam government has not even bothered to deploy medical teams for conducting mandatory screening of all tourists visiting Kaziranga," said Khagen Sharma, a schoolteacher.
"Screening is done at the airport in Guwahati, but then not all tourists who visit Kaziranga travel by air. Some of them might have come in trains from other Indian cities," a doctor here said.
"At the railway station in Guwahati, we don't have any facilities for screening SARS cases and so the threat is very high." Around 15 SARS cases have been confirmed in India so far, and over 350 people have died of the disease worldwide, mostly in Asia.