A nine-year-old Asiatic lioness has reportedly died due to COVID-19 in a zoo on the outskirts of Chennai, India, authorities announced on Friday, June 4.

The shocking death reportedly happened at the Aringnar Anna Zoological Park (AAZP) near Vandalur, Chennai, India on Thursday, June 3 evening.

Lioness Neela, aged 9, reportedly succumbed to COVID-19 related complications late Thursday as the virus roared its way into the facility's lion population, Hindustan Times reported. The zoo had reportedly sent samples from 11 lions under its care for testing last week. Out of the 11 lions swabbed, nine tested positive including Neela, as well as two elderly lions, aged 23 and 19.

Zookeepers at the facility reportedly noticed COVID-19 symptoms in their lions prompting the tests. The signs reportedly included a loss of appetite, nasal discharge, and occasional coughing among the lions.

Neela, who did not exhibit any of the signs, seemed asymptomatic at the time of her sudden death. Her only symptom was some slight nasal discharge the day before she died. More samples from Neela's body have been sent to two research institutes for further testing, reported India Today.

The zoo’s veterinary staff and zookeepers are closely monitoring the other eight lions that have tested positive of COVID-19. The infected lions have been quarantined and are on antibiotics and other prophylactic drugs, noted The Indian Express.

The source of the infection is currently unclear. The zoo has assured that all workers directly involved with the animals have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Zookeepers are also required to wear full PPE (personal protective equipment) suits when visiting enclosures. The zookeepers are currently trying to halt the spread of the virus to other animals in the facility, such as tigers and leopards.

In a similar but unrelated incident, eight Asiatic lions tested positive for COVID-19 at Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad, India last month. All lions have since fully recovered from the virus, The News Minute confirmed.

Even though there are still no confirmed instances of lions or tigers dying directly due to the novel coronavirus, a 17-year old tigress in a zoo in Sweden had to be reportedly put to death after getting infected with COVID-19.

The virus was said to have caused appetite loss, severe respiratory distress, and neurologic symptoms in the female tiger, The Star reported. Similarly, two white tiger cubs were suspected to have died due to COVID-19 in Pakistan. Most of the COVID-19 infections in big cats have been mild and have not caused serious casualties. It’s unclear if the new COVID-19 variants pose a bigger threat to these animals.

The Indian zoo reportedly remains closed from April 20 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in Tamil Nadu.

Meanwhile, the number of total covid infections in India rose to 28.8 million cases as 114,460 fresh cases were added on Sunday, June 6. Over 1.4 million are active cases while over 26.9 million people have recovered from the virus. With 2,677 new deaths, India's death toll due to COVID-19 now stands at 346,759.

A nine-year-old Asiatic lioness has reportedly died due to COVID-19 in a zoo on the outskirts of Chennai, India, authorities announced on Friday. This is a representational image. Pixabay

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