Lahore Zoo Animals Contract Blood Parasite Disease

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In September 2023, the outbreak of the African Trypanosomiasis, a vector-borne parasitic disease among various herbivores and carnivores, which targets their blood and other vital organs like the liver, lungs and stomach, has raised concerns among veterinary experts, who fear for the lives of the animals stuck in captivity.

“Many animals including lions, tigers, Urials and Mouflon sheep showed signs and symptoms of the infection,” reported Dr Rizwan Khan, a senior veterinary expert, working with the Lahore Zoo. The African Trypanosomiasis thrives in highly metabolic bodily organs, which provide the protozoan with an abundant source of energy, allowing it to reproduce and spread throughout the body.

While some animals show benign signs of a mild fever and overall lethargy only, others who develop sepsis, where the disease spreads to major organs, undergo stark changes in their blood pressure, tissue strength and appetite regulation, all of which can be fatal for the sick animal.

The recent death of Noor Jahan at the Karachi Zoo proved the fatality of the disease, as the post-mortem report indicated that she suffered from a similar blood parasite infection.

Similarly, in 2018, the unexpected demise of three Bengali tigers and a couple of deer at the Lahore Zoo, was also due to a blood parasite disease.

The deaths of these mammals to the inability of the zoo healthcare officials to regularly monitor and timely diagnose the development and progression of diseases in the zoo animals.

“Early diagnosis opens the possibility of a wide spectrum of treatments, ranging from intramuscular and subcutaneous injections to oral medications, which inhibit the function of specific proteins within the parasite, and can, in most cases lead to a speedy recovery,” explained Dr Sajjad Hussain, Director General of the Punjab Livestock Research Department.

The logistical challenges associated with diagnosing blood parasite infections in wild animals like lions and tigers, since they are prone to bouts of uncontrollable aggression, which can make the process of capturing and testing, a tremendously taxing affair for the healthcare teams. “It is because of this reason that we do not carry out testing until or unless an animal exhibits observable signs of infection,” elaborated a wildlife expert.

Kiran Saleem, Deputy Director at the Lahore Zoo said,” Veterinary experts from the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences have devised a schedule for the administration of strong anti-parasitic and antibiotic drugs, in order to control the case fatality rate of the outbreak.”

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