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Eight lions contract Covid-19 at Hyderabad zoo amid coronavirus surge in India

Eight lions contract Covid-19 at Hyderabad zoo amid coronavirus surge in India
At least eight Asiatic lions have tested positive for coronavirus at a zoo in Hyderabad, India, the country's environment ministry has said. The big cats have displayed mild Covid-19 symptoms, including dry cough and running nose.

The outbreak among felines kept at Hyderabad's Nehru Zoological Park was first reported by The Hindu on Tuesday. The lions started displaying symptoms back on April 24, an unnamed official of the zoo told the newspaper.

“Yes, the lions were tested after displaying mild symptoms. As of now they are active and are doing well,” the official said, adding that the disease affected four male and four female lions kept in the safari area of the park.

The lions experienced dry cough, nasal discharge and felt generally unwell, losing their appetite. The PCR tests of the lions taken by the zoo veterinary team have returned positive for Covid-19, with the additional samples collected for India’s Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB). The lions are believed to have contracted the virus from their human handlers. 

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The outbreak was officially confirmed by India's Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change later in the day. The ministry said that while lions had, indeed, contracted Covid-19, 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. All the eight lions have responded well to the treatment and recovering. They are behaving normally and eating well," the ministry said in a statement.

The park has been closed to public and an advisory was issued to other zoos across the country. At the same time, no evidence that lions can transmit coronavirus back to humans has emerged.

"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," the ministry stressed.

The zoo outbreak comes amid the ongoing coronavirus surge in India. On Tuesday, the country shot past the 20 million-case mark, with the death toll from the pandemic approaching 222,408. The massive second wave of Covid-19 has put a heavy strain on the country’s healthcare system, with multiple hospitals running out of medical oxygen to treat patients in a critical condition, as well as struggling to accommodate the influx of patients.

The Hyderabad zoo outbreak is apparently the first documented case of Covid-19 transmission from human to big cat in India. Earlier this year, such transmissions were reported in Sweden, as well as in Pakistan. The outbreaks led to the demise of several big cats, including two rare white tiger cubs. Their lesser feline counterparts, the domestic cats, have been reported catching coronavirus from their humans in several countries as well.

Also on rt.com Two rare white tiger cubs die in Pakistani zoo after possibly contracting Covid-19 from their handler, officials say

The mechanism of human-to-animal transmission – and back – still provides a lot of room for studying. The Danish mink disaster remains the best-documented case of such transmissions. Farm animals in the country have contracted Covid-19 from humans, developed their own strain and then passed it back, which prompted the government to cull Denmark’s entire mink population, with 15 to 17 million animals exterminated.

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