DENVER — The facility officials confirmed on Monday that, eleven African lions housed at the Denver Zoo have tested positive for COVID-19.
The animals were tested through nasal swab samples after staff noticed they were coughing, sneezing and appeared lethargic, KMGH-TV reported.
According to The Denver Gazette, the outbreak comes after two Amur tigers, Yuri and Nikita, became the zoo’s first animals to test positive for the virus earlier this month.
Zoo officials told the newspaper that the lions began exhibiting coronavirus symptoms shortly after the tigers’ diagnosis, but they do not believe that the outbreaks are related.
“There have been a number of big cats to come down with COVID-19 at zoos throughout the country. Fortunately, the vast majority have fully recovered, and the upside is that there’s an established knowledge base for us to draw from to help treat our animals,” Brian Aucone, the zoo’s senior vice president for life sciences, told the Gazette.
According to KMGH-TV, the ailing lions range in age from 1 to 9 years old, and zoo officials said that the felines’ symptoms are relatively mild at this point, but staff will continue to monitor and treat the animals.
This outbreak comes two weeks after the zoo reported that tests on two Amur tigers came back positive for the virus. Aucone said the lions did not contract the virus from the tigers because the animals don’t share any of the same spaces and they each have different teams caring for them. The tigers were observed having similar symptoms as the lions.
“We’re just waiting for more supply to be available because we know that large cats and such are susceptible to it,” Aucone said. “Think it’s within the next two or three months is what they’re expecting that more will be available.”
Like the tigers, the lions are unvaccinated against COVID-19, but zoo staff plan to vaccinate all of its big cat species as soon as more doses of the animal-specific vaccine become available.
The zoo said it has had several protective measures in place, including use of personal protective equipment, hygiene, cleaning, employee self-screening and health management. In 2020, it also installed protective barriers around the tigers’ habitat to ensure safe distancing between guests and the animals.