lions zoo covid

Brothers Jasiri, Usiku, Bahati and Kito at the Denver Zoo. The brothers, as well as seven other African lions at the zoo, tested positive for COVID-19. 

All 11 of the African lions living at the Denver Zoo have tested positive for COVID-19, the zoo announced Monday.

The lions were tested for the virus after they began exhibiting symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, lethargy and nasal discharge, the zoo said.

The tests were confirmed by the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

This diagnosis comes after two Amur tigers, Yuri and Nikita, became the zoo’s first animals to test positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.

The zoo said the lions began showing symptoms shortly after the tigers’ diagnosis, but they don’t believe the incidents are related.

“There have been a number of big cats to come down with COVID-19 at zoos throughout the country,” said Brian Aucone with the Denver Zoo. “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.”

Aucone said the lions’ symptoms are considered mild right now, but the zoo is monitoring their conditions closely. The zoo is also in touch with other zoos that have treated big cats with COVID-19 to help inform their care, he said.

The lions are from two prides — one made up of 6-year-old brothers Jasiri, Usiku, Bahati and Kito, and the other a family group with males Tobias, 5, Tatu, 2, and Oskar, 1, and females Neliah, 9, Sabi, 9, Kamara, 6, and Araali, 1. 

The zoo said it does not know how the lions became infected with COVID-19.

Though the Denver Zoo has vaccinated some of its most susceptible animals such as gorillas and otters against COVID-19, none of the lions nor the two infected tigers are vaccinated.

The zoo said it is planning to vaccinate all of its lions and tigers when more doses of the animal-specific Zoetis COVID-19 vaccine become available. The vaccine has been authorized for experimental use on a case-by-case basis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


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