Animal deaths in Bandipur, Nagarahole and other protected areas are being monitored and viscera analyzed in the laboratory to rule out the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in the animal world.

Reports of lions testing positive for COVID-19, aside from a few reported deaths in different parts of the world, have led the government to issue guidelines on the management of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries during the pandemic period.

Mahesh Kumar, director of the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, said based on the notice, the forestry department is also monitoring animal deaths inside national parks and sending samples for laboratory analysis.

The advisory says disease surveillance, mapping and monitoring should be strengthened through coordinated efforts to prevent any outbreaks at the earliest.

A similar circular was issued last year on the basis of which a working group comprising local agents and veterinary staff was formed and it is still functioning, he added.

This is a general notice addressed to all Chief Wildlife Custodians in all states and Union Territories and has been issued by the Department of the Environment, Forests and Climate Change of the Union.

The advisory calls for minimizing the human-animal interface and the national park is already closed to visitors and the safari was suspended when the state ordered the weekend lockdown last month. Even the NTCA has called for parks to be closed for tourism and is already being respected, according to Mr. Mahesh Kumar.

The notice also states that staff and field officials must be COVID-19 negative when assigned to work while the movement of people in the park or through the park must be restricted.

Park managers were also advised to form a working group made up of veterinarians to deal with suspected cases within the forest limits. The creation of a 24 hour reporting mechanism was advised with a nodal officer for swift handling of any case.

Wildlife activists said the restriction on the movement of people was already there through the suspension of the safari. But steps must be taken to ensure that people living in the hamlets remain free from COVID-19 as they were in close proximity to wildlife.

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