Four lions at Barcelona Zoo have tested positive for COVID-19, veterinary authorities said on Tuesday, in only the second known case in which large felines have contracted coronavirus.
Three females named Zala, Nima and Run Run and Kiumbe, a male, were tested after keepers noticed they showed slight symptoms of coronavirus.
Two staff at the zoo also tested positive for coronavirus, the authorities said, after the outbreak was first detected last month.
Authorities are investigating how the lions became infected.
Keepers carried out PCR tests on the lions in the same way as humans are tested as the animals are accustomed to contact with the zoo staff – but still required a large amount of skill to perform, the zoo said.
The Veterinary Service of Barcelona contacted colleagues at the Bronx Zoo in New York, where four tigers and three lions tested positive for COVID-19 in April.
It is the only other zoo where large felines are known to have contracted coronavirus. All recovered.
‘The Zoo has contacted and collaborated with international experts such as the Veterinary Service of the Bronx Zoo, the only one that has documented cases of Sars-CoV-2 infection in felines,’ the Barcelona zoo said in a statement.
‘The lions were given veterinary care for their mild clinical condition – similar to a very mild flu condition – through anti-inflammatory treatment and close monitoring, and the animals responded well.’
More concerning symptoms of coronavirus – such as difficulty breathing or other respiratory symptoms – were not found in the lions.
All other symptoms cleared after 15 days, except for coughing and sneezing, the zoo said, noting that the case gives them an opportunity to raise awareness about how Covid-19 affects animals – especially big cats.
Information will be shared with other international associations to help them with treating animals that become infected in the future.
The four-year-old male and the females, who are all 16 years old, have had no contact with other animals at the zoo, which is open to visitors.
Barcelona Zoo ruled out any possibility of visitors to the park catching the virus from the lions, saying: ‘Simply, no one who comes to see them gets close enough.’
It is believed that SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes coronavirus – likely evolved up to 70 years ago and resided in bats, unable to spread to another species.
However, it is though that the virus last year jumped into an intermediate species, potentially pangolins or wild dogs, before again jumping into humans, but there is much debate over this.
A number of cases have been found other in animals since the outbreak of the disease, both domestic and wild.
According to the CDC, a small number of pet cats and dogs have reportedly been infected with SARS-CoV-2, most of which became sick after contact with people.
In addition to lions and tigers in zoos in New York, Tennessee and now Barcelona, a puma tested positive for the virus in South Africa.
A number of European countries – including Denmark, the Netherlands and Greece have also seen devastating outbreaks of the virus on mink farms, that has led to the culling of millions of the creatures.
It has been found that once the virus is on a mink farm, it can spread from mink to other creatures.
However, experts are unclear over whether the virus can spread from mink to humans – although reports from Denmark and the Netherlands suggest it can.