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Mystery disease kills fauna in Sipahijala

Agartala, March 3: Close on the heels of an avian flu outbreak in the state, an unidentified disease has claimed the lives of 10 birds of varied species and three animals in the Sipahijala sanctuary in the past three days.

Authorities of the santuary, 30km south of this town, have initiated precautionary measures and closed the zoo and bird sanctuary to public. They have also banned poultry feed for the birds and animals.

But despite primary tests of blood and other samples collected from the dead animals and birds, no evidence of avian flu or any other known disease has been found by experts of the animal disease diagnosis centre here.

The outbreak of the avian flu, first noticed in the state-run R.K. Nagar cattle farm on the eastern outskirts of Agartala last month, led to largescale culling of ducks, found to be the carriers of the deadly virus. Experts said the outbreak has been nipped in the bud, with the successful completion of the culling process.

But the new development at the sanctuary has sounded a fresh alarm.

The wildlife conservator in the sanctuary, Ajit Bhowmik, said the first deaths occurred on February 28 and continued till this morning. “Till yesterday, one eagle, two owls, two kites, one small crane and two leopard cats died, but this morning, two night herons, one pond heron, one white-necked stork and one wildcat were found dead,” said Bhowmik, adding that attempts at diagnosis of the disease responsible for the fatalities have failed.

He said prima facie, there have been no signs of the deadly avian flu infection. “As the first step, we have quarantined the animals and birds from contact with public and banned poultry feed for them as precautionary measures. This will continue till expert opinion is available and preventive measures are taken,” said Bhowmik.

The chief wildlife warden of the forest department, R.K. Tangwan, said the Bhopal-based High Security Animal Disease Laboratory has already been contacted and samples collected from the dead birds and animals are being sent there. “We have also reported the matter to the animal resource development and veterinary authority in Delhi and a team of experts are expected to arrive here very shortly. We will taken their suggestions and implement them to save lives of animals and birds,” he said.

He added that earlier, a number of deer had died from shock effects of lighting and thunder, “but that was a different problem which we took care of”.

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