Death of Tiger with ‘Respiratory Illness’ in India Raises COVID-19 Fears

April 7, 2020 Updated: April 7, 2020

A tiger at a reserve in India has died of a mystery “respiratory illness,” a day after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the CCP virus, sparking fears the virus could be transmitted via human-to-animal contact.

The 10-year-old male tiger, known as “T-21,” was found unwell at Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Madhya Pradesh, India, and died on the morning of April 4 while receiving treatment, The Times of India reported.

The animal was suspected to have been unwell for some six days, but staff first became alarmed on Friday when the tiger was spotted near a pond, unable to move and in a semi-conscious state.

“The animal came to the pond frequently for water possibly because it was running a high fever” PTR Field Director Vikram Singh Parihar told The Hindu. “We gave him antibiotics on Friday but that didn’t show much improvement. Finally, it died on Saturday morning.”

The vets administered drugs with the help of darts even while T-21 was in water. Antipyretics like paracetamol and pain killers were also given, Parihar told The Times of India.

A hairball the size of a football was reportedly discovered in the tiger’s stomach, according to the news outlet, while its lungs were badly damaged.

The tiger’s cause of death has not yet been confirmed, however COVID-19—the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus—has been suspected due to its symptoms.

Samples have been collected and sent to a veterinary research college in Jabalpur and the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, Parihar said.

Meanwhile, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) said it had been approached by molecular biologists offering to conduct tests to determine whether the tiger had been infected by the virus.

Parihar said those who handled the tiger’s body would be tested for the CCP virus.

The news of the tiger’s death comes as officials from India’s Central Zoo Authority and the NTCA published guidelines urging zoos in the country to be on the “highest alert” for animals displaying potential COVID-19 symptoms, following the positive diagnosis of the tiger in New York.

The Epoch Times has contacted the PTR for comment.

Bronx Zoo Tiger Tests Positive

The Bronx Zoo tiger is believed to be the first infection of a zoo animal anywhere in the world and the first case of human-to-animal transmission in the United States.

The 4-year-old tiger and six other tigers and lions have developed symptoms. The tiger is believed to have been exposed to the virus by an asymptomatic zoo worker, zoo officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said.

“Nadia, a 4-year-old female Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo, has tested positive for COVID-19,” the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party ) virus, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society on Sunday.

Nadia, a Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo
Nadia, a Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. (Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society via AP)

Nadia, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions all developed a dry cough, the group said. They are all expected to recover, authorities said.

It’s not clear if the other big cats contracted the virus, but the USDA suggested it was probable.

The USDA confirmed the tiger’s positive COVID-19 test, saying in a release that “public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus.”

“The zoo has been closed to the public since mid-March, and the first tiger began showing signs of sickness on March 27. All of these large cats are expected to recover,” according to the USDA. “There is no evidence that other animals in other areas of the zoo are showing symptoms.”

Epoch Times Photo
An entrance to the Bronx Zoo in New York on Sept. 21, 2012. (Jim Fitzgerlad/AP Photo)

The agency said it and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are both monitoring the situation, saying that anyone who is sick should restrict their access to animals, including pets.

“Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus,” the USDA said.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.