A small herd of antelope has been put down at Paignton Zoo because of bovine TB (bTB).

The ten Kafue Flats lechwe, two male and eight female, were put down after zoo staff took advice from the Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA), the government agency working alongside DEFRA. Staff are saddened by the loss.

One antelope died in May and the routine post-mortem examination discovered suspect material. This tested positive for bTB. This is a notifiable disease which by law has to be reported to the government, which has legal powers to enforce action to control its spread. The zoo is working with APHA to determine the best course of action to minimise the spread of disease to other animals.

This is the first confirmed case of bTB at Paignton Zoo and there are no validated TB tests for lechwe. TB is an incredibly complicated disease which comes in many forms, is hard to detect and harder to confirm. As soon as there is a suspected case, samples are sent for culture. It can take up to 16 weeks to get a result.

Simon Tonge, executive director, said: “Wild animals in zoological collections can suffer the same fate as livestock on farms. We are in exactly the same position as farmers who lose their cattle. The most important thing is to take appropriate action to make sure more animals in the collection are not infected. We had to cull the antelope to protect the other animals in the zoo, as a farmer would have to cull to protect livestock around a farm.

“It’s possible the TB came from badgers. We have no plans to cull badgers, but instead want to look at other options like badger-proof fencing and vaccination, if this is something that can be arranged with the relevant authorities.”

There is no increased risk to visitors and the risk to staff is minimal.

The zoo has a strict disease monitoring programme and preventative health system in place to minimize the risk of any infectious disease spreading through the collection. While it’s not possible to extend this to wildlife on site, wild animal carcasses routinely undergo post-mortem examinations.