Big cats caged in zoos are at risk of catching Covid-19 from their keepers, a study has revealed. A study by a team of scientists from the University of Pretoria (UP) has revealed that the Delta variants of Covid-19 was a danger to some zoo animals. Transdisciplinary scientists found that reverse zoonotic transmission of Covid-19 from asymptomatic animal handlers at a zoo posed a risk to big cats kept in captivity. The investigation was launched after three lions at an unnamed private zoo in Johannesburg fell ill last year with breathing difficulties, runny noses and a dry cough.
Lions and pumas at a zoo in the South African capital of Pretoria got severe Covid-19 from asymptomatic zoo handlers, raising concerns that new variants could emerge from animal reservoirs of the disease, studies carried out by a local university showed.
A 2020 study of feces from two pumas that had had diarrhoea, nasal discharge and anorexia showed the animals had Covid-19 and made a full recovery after 23 days, the University of Pretoria said in a statement on Tuesday. A year later, in the midst of SA’s delta-variant-driven third wave, three lions, one of which had pneumonia, tested positive for the coronavirus.
“This data suggests that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating among staff during the time the lions got sick, and suggests that those with direct contact with the animals were likely responsible for the reverse zoonotic transmission,” said Marietjie Venter, a professor of virology at the university.