Lioness in TN zoo dies of coronavirus, 9 others infected

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(Eds: adding details) Chennai, June 4 (PTI): For the first time in Tamil Nadu, a lion has died of coronavirus while nine others in the pride have tested positive for the infection at a zoo near here, an official said on Friday.

'It is for the first time that the big cats have tested positive for the virus in Tamil Nadu,' the official told PTI.

The nine-year-old 'Neela', a lioness, which was in the safari area, succumbed to the virus on Thursday while nine of the 11 in the park tested positive for COVID-19, said officials of the Arignar Anna Zoological Park at Vandalur.

The park, spread across 602 hectares at Vandalur about 35 kms from the city, had remained shut with the COVID-19 enforced lockdown.

One of the major attractions in the city surrounded by dense flora and fauna, the park is home to several species of wildlife including star-tortoise, reticulated python, estuarine crocodile, Indian cobra, sambar, common otter, lion-tailed macaque, Asiatic lions and elephants, and chimpanzees.

The incidence of the lions getting infected came to light on May 26 when five lions, housed in safari park area, showed loss of appetite and occasional coughing, an official release from the park said.

Immediately, the in-house veterinary team swung into action to investigate and treat the animals.

On our request, a team of experts was also deputed by Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (TANUVAS) to join the veterinarians of Arignar Anna Zoological Park (AAZP) in investigating and deciding further course of treatment, the release said.

Blood samples of the animals were collected and sent to TANUVAS and nasal swab, rectal swab and faecal samples of 11 lions were sent to National Institute of High Security Diseases (NIHSAD) Bhopal, one of the four institutes authorised to take up SARS CoV-2 testing in captive animals.

'As per the laboratory test results furnished by the Institute, samples in respect to the nine lions out of the 11 sent have tested positive for the virus,' the release said.

To ascertain whether or not the reported findings were in the nature of false positives or the lioness could have died of comorbidities, samples were sent today (June 4) to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly, and to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad,the release said.

All the lions, which tested positive, are currently under close observation and on prescribed treatment regimen by the veterinary and TANUVAS expert team.

The park has been following the precautionary measures as prescribed by the Central Zoo Authority and the Central and State governments.

The animal-keepers and helpers have already received their COVID-19 vaccine.

A separate set of animal keepers was engaged for each pride of lions.

Personal protective equipment have been made mandatory for the animal-keepers, veterinary doctors and field staff visiting the area.

In May, eight Asiatic lions at a zoo in Hyderabad tested positive for COVID-19 making it the first such case in the country.

Days after reports of the first such case emerged in Hyderabad, a lion at the Etawah Safari Park in Uttar Pradesh had tested positive while another was suspected to have contracted the contagion.

According to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute joint director Dr K P Singh, 16 samples of the 14 Asiatic lions at the Etawah Safari Park were sent to the institute to conduct RT-PCR tests for COVID-19.

'On Thursday (May 6), one lion tested positive for the virus while another was considered as a suspected case The remaining 12 lions have tested negative', Singh had said.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had issued an advisory to close all zoological parks, national parks, tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries for visitors till further orders to control the spread of the pandemic.

According to reports, lions and tigers had tested positive in zoos in Barcelona (Spain) and Bronx in the United States. PTI JSP VIJ NVG NVG

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