A total of 15 lions at Utah's Hogle Zoo and Colorado's Denver Zoo have tested positive for COVID-19.
There were 11 lions at the Denver Zoo that were tested after exhibiting symptoms of "coughing, sneezing, lethargy, and nasal discharge." The tests came back positive.
"There have been a number of big cats to come down with COVID-19 at zoos throughout the country, including our two tigers, Yuri and Nikita," said Brian Aucone, senior vice president for animal sciences at the Denver Zoological Foundation on Monday. "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.
"We’ve been in touch with other zoos that have also recently managed COVID cases in their big cats to inform the care we’re providing."
Meanwhile, four African lions housed at the Hogle Zoo have also tested positive for the COVID-19 delta variant.
The lions began to exhibit symptoms of sneezing and coughing, prompting staff to collect samples from nasal swabs that were then were then sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory, zoo officials said in a statement. The results came back positive for the delta variant.
The Hogle Zoo said it is unclear how the lions contracted the virus but assured the public that a "stringent animal care COVID-19 safety plan" had been implemented prior to the positive cases.
"Existing protocols such as increased PPE (personal protective equipment), regulated staff involvement, increased cleaning procedures, and staff health monitoring continues to be enforced," the statement read.
The Hogle Zoo "will continue to monitor and manage specialized animal care dictated by CDC guidelines, and continues to work with many other zoos across the nation experiencing similar animal infections," the zoo added.
The African lions remain on exhibit at the Hogle Zoo, which assured visitors that they are safe. The lion's paddock is an open-air environment that "allows for a safe distance to view animals." The main viewing area is also partitioned by glass.
No other animals at the Hogle Zoo have tested positive for the coronavirus.
"We remain extra cautious and vigilant during the pandemic, with a key focus on the safety of staff, guests, and animals," said Dr. Nancy Carpenter, director of animal health at Hogle Zoo.
The zoo will be monitoring the lions' signs for worsening symptoms. Currently though, they "continue to do well and are only showing mild signs. We remain hopeful the infection will resolve and they will recover naturally on their own," said Bob Cisneros, associate director of animal care at Hogle Zoo.
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