Eight lions at Hyderabad zoo test positive for COVID-19

Published : May 04, 2021 22:43 IST

At the entrance to the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad which has been closed for visitors, on May 4, 2021. Photo: NOAH SEELAM/AFP

Oropharyngeal swabs taken from four male and four female Asiatic lions housed in the 40-acre Safari area of Hyderabad’s Nehru Zoological Park have come out positive for the COVID-19 virus. Genome sequencing of the same samples is being undertaken by scientists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, to ascertain whether the strain of the virus present has been transmitted from human beings. More than two dozen staffers at the zoo have tested positive for COVID-19.

The 380-acre zoo, one of the biggest in Asia and home to more than 1,500 animals, was closed to visitors from May 2 as a precautionary measure. According to zoo officials, caretakers on April 24 noticed that eight of the 12 Asiatic lions were exhibiting symptoms like dry cough, nasal discharge, and loss of appetite. The veterinary team was alerted, and oropharyngeal swabs of the lions were collected and sent to the CCMB for RT-PCR tests and, subsequently, for genome sequencing.

Once scientists at the CCMB confirmed that the eight lions had contracted COVID-19, officials at the zoo were immediately asked to take precautions and start medication at the earliest. Sources said that veterinarians were looking to conduct CT Scans of the lions to know the impact of the infection on their lungs. Dr Rakesh K. Mishra, who superannuated as the Director, CCMB, on April 30, but continues to play a key advisory role on matters of COVID-19, told Frontline that the “lions had recovered and were now doing fine”. Said Mishra: “The lions showed COVID-19 symptoms, they were tested and found positive.”

Speaking to Frontline, Rakesh Mishra said transmission of the COVID-19 virus from pets to humans could not be ruled out. Explained Mishra: “Though we did conduct tests on cats that were present as pets in some of the residences of people who had contracted COVID-19, and these tests turned up negative, nothing can be ruled out. Pets can act as reservoirs for the virus. Surveillance is needed. And the virus has and can always mutate in the future. After all, the virus did originally come from an animal. Wearing of masks is paramount.”

All National and Wildlife Sanctuaries, including the Nehru Zoological Park, the Kakatiya Zoological Park in Warangal, and the Kawal and Amrabad Tiger Reserves in the State of Telangana are currently shut as a precautionary measure.

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