Singapore lions, Iowa wild deer: A look at the Covid-19 spread in the animal world

The virus that causes the Covid-19 disease and is believed to have its ancestral strain in bats found in Asia has infected 250 million people across the world since the start of the pandemic in 2019.

Animals have not been spared either by the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, infections among animals in zoos and sanctuaries have affected several types of big cats, otters and non-human primates. It also noted that the risk of these animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low.

Here is a look at how the disease has been spread in the animal kingdom.

All lions infected at Chennai’s oldest zoo

A veterinarian  gives a nebulizer to a Covid infected lion to help it breathe better. PHOTO: ARIGNAR ANNA ZOOLOGICAL PARK

Coughs heard from two lions at the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in southern India’s Chennai city in May worried the veterinary team enough to get them – and all other 13 lions in the zoo – tested for Covid-19.

Their worst nightmare was confirmed when the results came back positive.

India at that time was reeling from its second wave of the pandemic. Two of the lions did not make it, while the rest of the big cats eventually recovered.

Big cats with small symptoms in Denver

Two spotted hyenas at the US zoo became the world’s first known infected cases among hyenas when it was announced on Nov 5 that they had tested positive.

The adult hyenas, 22-year-old Ngozi and 23-year-old Kibo, had shown mild symptoms of Covid-19, including “a little bit of coughing and sneezing”, nasal discharge and lethargy, zoo spokesman Jake Kubie said then.

They were not the first animals at the Denver Zoo to have been infected, Since October, 11 lions and two tigers have also tested positive. But none of the sick animals were ever in critical condition, according to the zoo.

Wild deer cluster in Iowa

Researchers had found that hundreds of white-tailed deer infected with the coronavirus in Iowa were probably contracting the virus from humans and then rapidly spreading it among one another.

Up to 80 per cent of deer sampled from April 2020 through January 2021 in the state were infected, according to a non-peer-reviewed study published on pre-print repository website bioRxiv on Nov 5.

Scientists said the findings pose worrisome implications for the spread of the coronavirus, although they were not able to identify how the deer might have contracted the virus from humans.

There is no evidence that the deer have passed the virus back to humans. But the study results are so disturbing that its authors at Penn State University and wildlife officials in Iowa are alerting deer hunters and others who handle deer to take precautions to avoid transmission.

Mass culling of minks in Denmark

In November 2020, Denmark ordered a nationwide culling of minks – between 15 million and 17 million of them on 1,080 farms – after it detected a mutated variant of the virus on the farms which had spread to human beings.

Besides Denmark, which is the world’s biggest producer of mink fur, the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden also discovered Sars-CoV-2 in minks, the World Health Organisation said in a statement on Nov 6, 2020.

Macabre images of thousands of dead minks dumped and buried in shallow trenches in a Danish military field outside the western town of Holstebro shocked the world.

But the little creatures literally rose from their graves within a month, lifted by pressure from gases released by the decomposition, spooking nearby residents who worry about water contamination from the rotting carcasses.

In May this year, the Danish government began incinerating 4 million minks that had been interred in the military area.

San Diego apes vaccinated

San Diego Zoo officials said in March that nine great apes at the zoo were the world’s first nonhuman primates to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

The four orangutans and five bonobos each received two doses of an experimental vaccine originally designed for dogs and cats.

Zoo officials went ahead with the shots amid concerns about the animals’ wellbeing after a troop of eight gorillas at the affiliated San Diego Zoo Safari Park fell ill with Covid-19 in January, marking the first known transmission of the virus to great apes.

Lions infected at Singapore zoos

Four lions in a Singapore zoo caught the virus after being exposed to staff from Mandai Wildlife Group. PHOTO: NIGHT SAFARI

Four lions in a Singapore zoo became some of the most recent cases of animal infection when the Animal and Veterinary Service announced on Nov 9 that they had caught the virus.

The government agency said that the four Asiatic lions at the Night Safari, as well as one African lion at the Singapore Zoo, had exhibited mild signs of sickness including coughing, sneezing and lethargy.

This was due to exposure to staff from Mandai Wildlife Group – that runs the zoos – who later tested positive for Covid-19. Testing is ongoing for the African lion that has shown signs of sickness.

With input from NYTIMES, AFP, Reuters and The Straits Times

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