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Experts term COVID a wake-up call, seek funds for focused study of zoonotic diseases

In the wake of a recent study by the Indian Council of Medical research confirming the presence of coronavirus in fruit-eating bats in South India, wildlife scientists and retired foresters say a larger sample study on free-ranging wild animals through rapid assessment was required, also seeking studies to explore whether the pathogens can spread through seeds and fruits.

Experts term COVID a wake-up call, seek funds for focused study of zoonotic diseases


Pointing out that zoonotic diseases remain a serious threat for humans and wildlife, former principal chief conservator of forests N Krishnakumar opined that the virus was here to stay and could resurface stronger through mutations.

“Bronx zoo had reported a tiger being infected with the virus. This calls for extensive screening and testing for coronavirus in zoo and safari animals. An ecosystem assessment across forest types, seeds and flowers as carriers of the virus should also be studied,” Krishnakumar told DT Next.

“Investments in natural resources management is the key for an infection-free life. There is a need for more forest inventory data related to zoonotic infections, particularly COVID, nipah and anthrax, which has a strong presence in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra. There is a possibility of the virus transmitting from forests to cities and vice versa,” he added.

“Dedicated funds are needed to study bats, jackals, monkeys, dogs and pigs that known for spreading zoonotic infections. At present, the focus is only on conservation and eco-tourism, ignoring the micro-level monitoring of wild animals and their deadly viral infections,” added conservation scientist A Kumaraguru of Sathyamangalam Tiger Conservation Authority.

In case of an anthrax attack, a large animal like an elephant would collapse within 48 hours, with blood oozing through all its body openings. “Imagine the catastrophe if anthrax mutates like coronavirus and spreads to humans,” Kumaraguru noted.

“The Union and State governments have not allotted adequate funds into research institutes like ICMR, Wildlife Institute of India, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and Indian Institute of Science. The fact is, the major part of the government funding goes to research on defence, space science, IITs and medical sectors, sanctioning merely peanuts to other scientific research related to forestry, marine, veterinary, agriculture and plant biology,” said a former vice-chancellor based in Chennai.

“Funding for research projects and highend laboratories is an issue for veterinary institutes in India,” said M Balaji, coordinator, Tamil Nadu Veterinary Graduates Federation. Kerala and Karnataka are roping in veterinarians to fight COVID pandemic. But there was no such coordination between the public health and veterinary science, he added.

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