Bangalore: As many as 20 of the 23 sloth bears screened for medical examination have been found positive for tuberculosis. Nine bears have died of TB since January this year and the condition of another ten is said to be ‘critical.’ In total, 100 sloth bears are housed at the Bear Rescue Centre in Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) in Bangalore.
Human contact, lack of food and stress are the main reasons for these wild animals becoming victims of TB. Unfortunately, despite repeated medical tests, the bears show the symptoms of TB only when the disease aggravates. No specific kit has been designed anywhere in the world to detect TB in bears. Veterinary doctors are using the kit which has been designed for elephants.
Over the last one or two years, tuberculosis has become a major killer of bears, especially of those which have been rescued from Kalandars (bear charmers). Following complaints from animal lovers on torture of sloth bears by Kalandars, the Supreme Court directed the BBP authorities to open the Bear Rescue Centre to house all bears which have been rescued from various parts of the country. Last year, after some bears died of TB, experts from National TB Institute, Delhi and Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Bio-Technology, Trivandrum, tested all bears which showed symptoms of TB. The experts were baffled after the medical test of some bears with symptoms of TB showed negative.
As many as 20 of the 23 sloth bears screened for medical examination have been found positive for tuberculosis.
Wildlife Veterinary Officer, Bear Rescue Centre, BBP, Dr Arun told Express that a majority of bears are infected by Mycobacterium tuberculosis that also infects humans. So, the bears may have contracted TB because of constant interaction with people, he added. He also said that these bears were also taken to several places without food by the Kalandars. In the process they develop all kinds of infections. Another major hurdle in treating is that the age of these animals are not known as they were separated from their mother very early by charmers. Without proper age, medication is difficult as there are chances of overdose, he added.
Although the infected bears have been quarantined and treated, it is very difficult to say how long they will live. Unlike human beings, these bears show symptoms like absence of liquid from nostrils, fatigue and lack of activity only when the disease becomes serious. They stop taking food and face difficulty in breathing. Any treatment at this stage does not help. A post-mortem on one of the bears that died recently showed huge lumps of sputum in the lung. “The lumps of sputum makes it hard for the bear to breathe,” he said. He also informed that the authorities are planning another round of tests for all the bears of the rescue centre and will do whatever is possible to save them.
Executive director of BBMP Dr R Raju said that they are doing their best to save the bears from TB. The infected bears have been quarantined to contain the spread of TB. Extreme weather condition has also aggravated problems for these bears, he added.