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Chennai: Lion dies of suspected COVID-19 infection at Vandalur zoo, 9 others infected

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New Delhi, June 04: Nine-year-old ''Neela', a lioness, has died of suspected Coronavirus infection in Chennai's Vandalur zoo while nine others have tested positive. A sample came back from the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases confirmed coronavirus infection.

Representational Image

Reportedly, the authorities have sent a second samplefor testing, to rule out a false positive report.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.

The park, spread across 602 hectares at Vandalur about 35 kms from the city, had remained shut with the COVID-19 enforced lockdown.The authorities took all the measures to protect the animals and they are now not sure of how the big cat contracted the virus.

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.

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.

It may be recalled that, eight Asiatic lions at the Hyderabad zoo tested positive for Covid-19 in May. It was the first such instance in the country and prompted the Centre to order the closure of all national parks, sanctuaries, and national zoological parks.

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. Most of these animals became infected after contact with people with COVID-19.

A small number of pet cats and dogs have been reported to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 in several countries, including the United States.

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.

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