A nine-year-old Asiatic lion has died from the coronavirus in a state-run zoo on the outskirts of the south Indian city of Chennai, the zoo says.
Lioness Neela, aged 9, succumbed to Covid-19 while eight other lions have also tested positive for the virus at the Aringnar Anna Zoological Park (AAZP) near Vandalur, Chennai on Thursday evening.
According to a press release from the park, the lioness died on June 3 around 6:15 pm. “The lioness had been asymptomatic and showed some nasal discharge only the day before (June 2) and had been symptomatically treated immediately,” it read.
The outbreak was first observed on Thursday, with most of the lions asymptomatic, it said, adding that they were quarantined and given antibiotics.
According to the officials, the park currently has around 15 lions (eight female, seven male). The test results for Covid are still awaited for four lions.
The in-house veterinary team of the AAZP had taken prompt action to provide a team and later experts from the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (TANUVAS) were asked to join the zoo officials in reviewing and deciding the future course of the medication.
Blood samples were sent to TANUVAS and nasal swab, rectal swab and faecal samples of 11 lions were sent to the National Institute of High Security Diseases (NIHSAD) in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, one of the four designated institutes authorized to take up SARS CoV-2 testing in captive animals.
“As per the laboratory test results furnished by the Institute, 11 of the 15 lions were found to be infected by Covid-19. To ascertain whether or not the reported findings are like false positives or the animal could have died of comorbidities, samples have also been sent on June 4 to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute Bareilly and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad,” the release added.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, a senior official from the zoological park said it is very difficult to ascertain how the virus spread to the animals.
“We have a set of guidelines and we are following it meticulously. There are only two ways this could have happened, either through the animal caretaker or the feed we are providing to the animals. From the feeding perspective, people who are engaged in the distribution of meat are all vaccinated and regular RT-PCR tests are conducted for all staff. The feed itself is irradiated in the ultraviolet room. PPE kits are mandatory for animal keepers who are allowed to enter the field area so till now we are not able to find out the cause of the spread,” he said.
The official added that collecting the samples from the animals has been difficult because they wanted to take the sample without giving sedation as it would compromise the immunity of the animal.
“We are collecting samples through physical restraint. All the lions tested positive are under close observation and on a prescribed treatment regimen by experts. The nine lions which tested positive include a 23-year-old and a 19-year-old. We are a bit concerned about their health as they are old. We have also sent the samples of other big cats like tiger, leopard even though they didn’t show any symptoms.”