Unusual silence reigns at Brazil’s largest zoo

Sao Paulo, May 6 (efe-epa).- More than 2,000 animals continue to be housed at the now virtually silent Sao Paulo Zoo, where extra precautions are being taken to prevent its captive residents – particularly felines and primates – from becoming infected with the novel coronavirus.

Wildlife have had Brazil’s largest zoo almost all to themselves since it was closed to visitors on March 21 as part of a broader strategy to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covering a more than 800,000-square-meter (8.6-million-square-foot) area carved out of the Atlantic Forest, one of Brazil’s most important and threatened biomes, the zoo has received more than 91 million visitors since its inauguration in 1958.

But now the normally crowded walkways have gone silent, with only the zoo’s staff allowed inside due to the risks associated with the coronavirus.

And even those employees are working under a system of alternating shifts aimed at reducing the flow of personnel by up to 50 percent, lowering the risk of contagion among human beings and protecting the animals.

Hygiene measures inside the zoo also are rigorous, including a guideline that makes the use of gloves and facial protectors mandatory.

Sao Paulo state is the epicenter of the pandemic in Brazil with 34,053 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,851 Covid-19-related deaths, according to official figures released Tuesday.

That state has instituted a “soft” lockdown, with guidelines recommending that people remain at home if possible and banning large crowds.

Even so, Sao Paulo’s deputy governor, Rodrigo Garcia, said last month that 74 percent of the state’s economy continued to function even after the lockdown measures were first decreed on March 24.

“The isolation measures mean the animals have a different interaction when compared with the routine of open visits, especially because of human noises (now practically non-existent), but that doesn’t mean they’re not well or that this reality is causing them any problem,” the zoo’s veterinarian, Fabricio Rassy, told Efe.

“Although there’s been a significant change in the human routine and in the activities of the people around them, the animals’ (routine) has been practically unaltered,” he added.

The expert said SARS-CoV-2, the virus strain that causes Covid-19, is very new and knowledge about its effect on animals and means of transmission remains imprecise.

However, the experience of the Bronx Zoo in hard-hit New York City, where at least five tigers and three lions were infected with the novel coronavirus, have prompted the Sao Paulo Zoo to bolster safety measures for its own felines.

“We’ve also taken a lot of care with the primates due to their similarity to humans, although there’s no evidence of transmission. But we’re working here preventively,” the veterinarian said, adding that direct contact between human beings and newborn animals is being avoided as a protective measure.

Rassy, meanwhile, expressed no concern that the end of the partial lockdown and the return of visitors to the zoo after this period of isolation might have a negative impact on the animals.

“The animals are long accustomed to the presence of people. We’re going through this period of isolation now, but I’m sure that – as with everything else with this pandemic – when we’re able to open our doors again the visitors will return gradually (and that will facilitate their adaptation),” he said. EFE-EPA


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