From the Audubon Nature Institute
Three African lions at Audubon Zoo tested positive yesterday for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. During the week of Dec. 20, Audubon Zoo animal care staff observed the lions were coughing and producing nasal discharge.
Nasal and fecal samples for three symptomatic lions were collected and tested at the Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Baton Rouge, confirming the presence of SARS-CoV-2 for lions Arnold and Kali and their cub Asani on Dec. 28. The zoo is in the process of testing the other three lions.
All lions continue to have a normal appetite and appear to be doing well. They are showing few symptoms other than coughing, sneezing and nasal discharge. They are currently being quarantined in their habitat.
Veterinarians are monitoring all six lions closely and will treat any serious symptoms as they may arise. The lion habitat at Audubon Zoo is not closed, but additional barricades have been added in front of the exhibit to further distance guests out of an abundance of caution.
“As with all of the zoo’s animals, Arnold, Kali and Asani continue to receive excellent care,” said Audubon’s Senior Veterinarian Bob MacLean. “Audubon’s veterinary and husbandry teams are skilled and dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to ensure the well-being of the animals in our care.”
It is not yet known how the three lions acquired the infection, but it is most likely that they were exposed to an asymptomatic keeper. Audubon Zoo has always had biosecurity protocols in place and adopted heightened protocols around susceptible animals at the onset of the pandemic last year.
Audubon Zoo biosecurity practices include the use of personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfection protocols, quarantine procedures for new arrivals, and preventative medicine practices, such as vaccination. Audubon Zoo employees are required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and practice health and safety protocols at all times. Those employees working with susceptible animals are required to wear N95 or KN95 face masks.
“Audubon is taking all recommended precautions to protect keepers from becoming infected and to prevent any further transmission from people to the lions,” said Gary A. Balsamo, the state public health veterinarian. “The lions are always separated from the public by at least 6 feet, and that distance has recently been increased to ensure no risk to the public.”
In October, Audubon Zoo began administering an animal Covid-19 vaccine to its gorillas and orangutans. The second phase of the vaccine distributions, scheduled for the zoo’s cats and mustelids such as otters, is still pending. So the African lions have not yet been vaccinated.
Zoetis, the manufacturer of the vaccine, donated more than 11,000 doses to help protect the health and well-being of more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos as well as more than a dozen conservatories, sanctuaries, academic institutions and government organizations in 27 states.
Zoetis’ research and development team applied decades of experience developing other coronavirus vaccines for cats, dogs, poultry and cattle. Zoetis’ Covid-19 vaccine is formulated for animal species and does not reduce vaccine doses available to humans.
“Guests should feel confident in knowing that they are not at risk from animals when visiting the Zoo,” MacLean added.