UPDATED: May 5, 2021 10:26 IST
Eight Asiatic lions at Hyderabad’s Nehru Zoological Park have tested positive for Covid-19. This is the first case of lions or any other animals testing positive in an Indian zoo.
Their samples were tested by the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB). The samples of four male and four female lions were sent to the CCMB on April 19 after they showed symptoms including fever. The RT-PCR tests came out to be positive for Covid-19.
“The lions are recovering well and eating properly. We have shared SOPs with the zoo which they are asked to follow while feeding and taking care of the wild,” Dr Rakesh Mishra, the CCMB director told India Today.
This is the first time in India that transmission of the virus to animal through human has been detected. The CCMB wrote to concerned authorities to collect faeces samples of animals.
“Now we are developing a method to test the samples of their faeces. This method would be useful in future as every time it is not possible to collect saliva samples from wild animals,” Rakesh Mishra said.
Mishra said these animals must have got infected through zoo-keeping staff. A senior official of the zoo said they keep sending the samples of the animals to the CCMB from time to time for analysis.
The official further said the samples from the wild animals would be collected either by the “squeeze cage” method or by tranquilising them.
In the “squeeze page” method, the animal is confined in a cage without any space so that it cannot move or resist while taking samples.
On May 1, the environment ministry issued orders for closing all the zoo parks and animal sanctuaries in the state.
According to an official statement by the CCMB, analyses of the samples revealed that the infection was not caused by any variant of concern.
The eight lions have been isolated under due care and necessary treatment has been provided, the officials said.
Preventive measures were already in place for all zoo staff. The zoo has been closed to visitors to avoid minimal external contact.
“The Central Zoo Authority has taken several pre-emptive measures including the issuance of guidelines and advisories to the zoos towards precautions to be undertaken by zoos in the light of the increasing number of cases of SARS CoV-2,” the statement said.
Based on experience with zoo animals elsewhere in the world that experienced SARS-COV2 positive last year, there is no factual evidence that animals can transmit the disease to humans any further, the authorities said.