Eight Asiatic lions at Hyderabad’s Nehru Zoological Park have tested positive for the deadly coronavirus, perhaps the first known case of the human infecting the felines and making them sick in India.
Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology- Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (CCMB-LaCONES) informed the forest authorities over the phone that the RT-PCR tests of these big cats were positive. The CCMB carried out detailed investigation of the samples for genome sequencing to find out if the strain came from human beings or not. The scientist cautioned the officials to take precautions and start medication at the earliest. The zoo authorities are likely to conduct a CT scan of the lions to know the impact of the infection on their lungs.
Zoo Director and Curator . Siddhanand Kukrety and V.V.L. Subhadra Devi respectively did not respond to the repeated calls by this correspondent to deny or confirm the news officially. However, another source on the 380-acre campus, which houses more than 1,500 inmates, said that results from the CCMB were submitted to Ms. Subhadra Devi, and to alert them the scientists have orally told the higher-up about the results on Monday evening.
“Yes, the lions were tested after displaying signs of respiratory distress and other mild symptoms. As of now they are active and are doing well,” the officer said, adding that four male and four female big cats were housed in the 40-acre Safari area. He said that on April 24, caretakers noticed that these big cats developed symptoms like dry cough, nasal discharge, and loss of appetite and soon alerted the veterinary team. Soon, the vets took oropharyngeal swab samples (collected from nose, throat and respiratory tract under anaesthesia) of the feline and sent them to CCMB-LaCONES, where the scientists are likely to do genome sequencing to find out if the strain came from human beings. Currently, NZP, one of the biggest zoos in Asia, has been closed for visitors as a precautionary measure. More than two dozen staffers at the zoo were tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, Central Zoo Authority on Tuesday evening confirmed that based on detailed diagnostic tests and report as shared by CCMB-LaCONES, it has now been confirmed that eight Asiatic lions housed in NZP have tested positive for SARS-CoV2 virus. “Further analyses of the samples have revealed that the infection was not caused by any variant of concern. The eight lions have been isolated and due care and necessary treatment has been provided,” they said.
All the eight lions have responded well to the treatment and are recovering. The big cats are behaving normally and eating well. The CZA has taken several pre-emptive measures including issuance of guidelines and advisories to the zoos towards precautions to be undertaken in the light of increasing number of cases of SARS CoV-2 .
The monitoring and guidelines for prevention, sample collection, detection in suspected cases, and safety protocols for animal keepers etc have been suggested to zoos in consultation with scientific agencies and experts of Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) Uttar Pradesh and CCMB-LaCONES. “Based on experience with zoo animals elsewhere in the world that have experienced SARS-COV2 positive last year, there is no factual evidence that animals can transmit the disease to humans any further,” officials said.