Eight Asiatic lions at Hyderabad’s Nehru Zoological Park (NZP) have tested positive for COVID-19, making it the first such case in the country.
The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology on April 29 told the NZP that the RT-PCR tests of the eight lions had come out positive for coronavirus.
The director and curator of NZP Siddhanand Kukrety neither denied nor confirmed the news.
"It is true that the lions showed COVID symptoms but I'm yet to receive the RT-PCR reports from the CCMB and hence it will not be proper to comment. The lions are doing well," said Dr Kukrety to TOI.
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According to the sources, on April 24, wildlife veterinarians in the park noticed COVID-like symptoms including loss of appetite, nasal discharge and coughing among the lions.
The management advised the veterinarians to take their samples. Oropharyngeal (part of the pharynx between the soft palate and the hyoid bone) swab samples of the lions were then sent to the CCMB in Hyderabad.
Out of the 12 lions in the 40-acre safari area, four males and four females have tested positive.
CCMB scientists will do genome sequencing to find out if the strain came from animals or humans.
This case of lions triggered the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to issue a detailed advisory on April 30 to chief wildlife wardens asking them to shut all national parks, sanctuaries, and tiger reserves over fears of transmission from humans to animals.
The NZP closed to the public for two days. Recently 25 park staff had also tested positive for COVID-19. "It is possible it might have come from the zoo-keepers or caretakers," the sources said.
Dr Shirish Upadhye, director of the city's Wildlife Research and Training Centre (WRTC) had said, "After Bronx Zoo in New York, where eight tigers and lions tested positive for COVID in April last year, there have been no such reported cases anywhere in wild animals. However, in Hong Kong, the virus was found in dogs and cats. "Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.