Anthrax fear grips Similipal (India)


Riyan Ramanath V, The Times of India

Date Published
Bhubaneswar: Anthrax has come to haunt Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) again with the wildlife officials suspecting the adult male elephant found dead on Wednesday was due to the virus attack.
The adult elephant was found dead at the Similipals core area at Jenabil. Based on circumstantial evidence and signs on the body, the STR authorities sent the blood sample of the pachyderm to the Animal Disease Research Institute (ADRI), Phulnakhara, Cuttack.

The STR deputy director Jagnyadatta Pati said there were tell-tale signs of anthrax infection on the animal’s body. He ruled out poaching. “There was anal bleeding in the elephant. No other external injury was found. Since there are instances of elephants being infected by anthrax in core area at Upper Barakamada range, we can’t rule out anthrax in this case,” Pati told TOI.

He further said in previous anthrax cases, mostly adult elephants fell victim to it. Anthrax mostly attacks the adult and sub-adult animals. “Considering the age of this elephant, we can make an assessment till coming of the test report that the elephant was killed due to virus infection,” Pati said.

After the authorities suspected anthrax, they followed due protocol for the burial of the carcasses so that the infection doesn’t spread. The fresh carcass was buried on the same day in the presence of senior forest officers, said an officer.

According to government sources, including the recent case, 17 elephants have died due to anthrax in Similipal in two and a half years. The wildlife campaigners however have disputed the claim on the basis of an RTI information.

The information revealed that out of blood samples of 16 elephants sent for test to ADRI, 11 were found to be negative. This indicates that 11 elephants didn’t die due to anthrax and there could be poaching by electrocution or poisoning.

Private wildlife body Wildlife Society of Odisha (WSO) secretary Biswajit Mohantysaid if the anthrax has broken out as being claimed by the forest department, it could have been an epidemic. It could have spread to the cattle in the nearby areas and other prey animals. But there has not been single instance of anthrax spreading to other animals, he argued.

In Similipal, the forest department claimed deaths of 16 elephants between December 2014 and March 25, 2017. Since 2010, as many 84 elephants have died in the STR out of which only 26 deaths are attributed to poaching (both poisoning and use of weapon). The officials record 40 deaths as natural and 18 for unknown reasons.

What govt says

-16 elephants died due to anthrax in two and a half years

-The deaths were reported in Jenabil, Upper Barakamada, Gudgudia and Pithabata ranges of STR

-Since 2010, as many as 86 elephants have died in Similipal for different reasons

What WSO says

-Samples of 11 out of 16 elephants has anthrax negative in ADRI

-Anthrax takes shape of epidemic but it is not so in Similipal