In perhaps the first such case in the country, eight Asiatic lions at the Nehru Zoological Park (NZP) in Hyderabad have tested positive for Covid-19.
Sources told TOI said that on April 29, the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) orally told NZP officials that the RT-PCR tests of these lions were positive. The curator and director of NZP Dr Siddhanand Kukrety neither denied nor confirmed this.
“It’s 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.
“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,” says Dr Shirish Upadhye, director of city’s Wildlife Research & Training Centre (WRTC).
According to the sources, on April 24, wildlife veterinarians working in the park noticed Covid symptoms like loss of appetite, nasal discharge and coughing among the lions kept in the safari. There are 12 lions aged around 10 years in the 40-acre safari area. Four males and females each have tested positive.
After veterinarians working in the park pressed the panic button, the management advised them to take samples. Field vets took oropharyngeal (part of the pharynx that lies between the soft palate and the hyoid bone) swab samples of the lions and sent them to the CCMB in Hyderabad with which the NZP has signed an MoU. It’s learnt that one of the vets involved in the process was SA Asadulla. Despite repeated calls, Asadulla did not respond.
Sources said CCMB scientists will do genome sequencing to find out whether this strain of the virus has come to the animals from human beings. TOI also learns that a virtual meeting of MoEFCC, CCMB scientists, Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and NZP officials was held on April 30, in which the issue of lions testing positive was discussed. Dr Kukrety said he was also part of the meeting. “The lions’ case was the trigger for the MoEFCC to issue a detailed advisory on April 30 to country’s the chief wildlife wardens asking them to shut down all national parks, sanctuaries, and tiger reserves fearing transmission of the virus from humans to animals,” the sources said.
The Nehru Zoological Park was closed to the public two days ago. As it is situated in a densely populated area, the virus, which is also is now air-borne, might have infected the lions from people residing in zoo’s vicinity. “It is also possible it might have come from the zoo-keepers or caretakers,” sources said, adding that over 25 park staff tested positive for Covid recently.