A zoo in northern Thailand has isolated two endangered giant pandas over fears they may catch bird flu after a leopard in another zoo is believed to have died from the disease, officials said Saturday.
The pandas are healthy. But authorities are worried that scores of chickens scampering freely around the Chiang Mai Zoo in the country's north may sicken the pandas if the birds are infected with bird flu, the zoo's director Tanapat Pongpamorn said.
The avian virus has killed millions of chickens across Thailand as well as five humans. On Friday, authorities said tests had shown that a clouded leopard died from the disease on Jan. 27 at Khao Khiew Zoo, south of Bangkok.
Zoo officials said the leopards may have become infected with bird flu after eating raw chicken meat.
Workers at the Chian Mai zoo were trying to keep wild roosters and hens from coming close to the pandas, Tanapat said.
“Those chickens were born in the wild. They roam the zoo everywhere,” he said. “We're doing our best.”
He said veterinarians were checking the health of the pandas regularly and discussing the results with Chinese experts. The pandas have been rented from China for 10 years for US$250,000.
Last month, officials ordered the closure of the bird sections at zoos across the country over bird flu concerns after the carcasses of two crows - which tested positive for the virus - were found near a flamingo cage at Bangkok's Dusit Zoo.
Natural Resources and the Environment Minister Prapat Panyachatraksa said Friday that more test results were being awaited to confirm the exact type of bird flu the leopard had.
Based on early tests, it wasn't clear whether the leopard had the same variety of avian flu that has infected people, or a milder strain.
The World Health Organization said it had little information about the case, but if confirmed, it could be the first known time the disease has jumped to exotic animals or members of the cat family.
(China Daily February 16, 2004)