All 13 lions at Chennai Zoo test negative for COVID-19, says official

Chennai: According to the Deputy Director of Arignar Anna Zoological Park (AAZP), all their 13 lions have tested negative for COVID-19. The zoo near the southern Indian metropolis of Chennai which housed 15 Asiatic lions, saw ten of them testing COVID-19 positive earlier. Two lions (a lion and lioness) had succumbed to the virus. 

The AAZP, locally known as Vandalur Zoo, had sent its lions’ samples in two batches to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD), Bhopal. In all, the nasal and rectal samples of 8 lions that had tested positive for coronavirus positive were sent for testing.

“With this, all the 13 lions present in the AAZP have now tested negative for SARS-COV2 as per the report communicated by NIHSAD on 23rd July” the statement from the zoo read. It also added that there was no infected lion in the zoo at present. 

According to officials, all the lions are recovering well and have not been showing any serious post-Covid signs or complications. As a mark of precaution, officials are monitoring the health condition of the lions, on a round-the-clock basis. 

Zee Media had earlier reported that four lion samples from this zoo had tested positive for the ‘Delta variant’ of COVID-19. This was based on the genome sequencing results shared by the NIHSAD Bhopal. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), this variant showed higher transmissibility and reduced neutralization (by antibodies). This variant is first said to have been detected in India in late 2020. Variants of the SARS-CoV-2 (infection) have been emerging and circulating around the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Temperature checks, eating patterns and food data of 53 different animals are being monitored on a regular basis. Couple of tigers did show appetite issues, but they were fine after we replaced beef with chicken. But even these tigers’ results returned negative. Rest all animals are okay,  Naga Sathish Gidijala, IFS, Deputy Director, AAZP had told Zee media earlier. 

While the mystery over how the captive big cats got infected with the deadly virus remains unsolved, experts and vets advising the Zoo suspect human-animal (man to single lion) transmission followed by animal-animal (lion to multiple lions) transmission. Based on a discussion between experts, the transmission from man-animal seems to have happened, despite animal keepers and feeders having worn PPE suits and followed precautions.

AAZP authorities have been providing treatment to the animals and following protocols in consultation with experts from Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (TANUVAS), Veterinarians of Hyderabad Zoo and Bronx Zoo. 

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