SINGAPORE: Four Asiatic lions at the Night Safari have tested positive for COVID-19 after being exposed to infected staff from Mandai Wildlife Group.
The lions had exhibited mild symptoms including coughing, sneezing and lethargy on Saturday (Nov 6), the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) said in a news release on Tuesday.
An African lion at the Singapore Zoo also showed symptoms on Monday, and is undergoing testing.
“This was upon exposure to staff from Mandai Wildlife Group who tested positive for COVID-19,” AVS said.
AVS, which is under the National Parks Board, has issued an order to Mandai Wildlife Group to isolate all nine Asiatic lions and five African lions in their respective dens, it said. This includes the five lions that have already displayed symptoms.
The four Asiatic lions were tested with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests by AVS.
“AVS is working with the Mandai Wildlife Group to closely monitor the health of the lions and will be testing samples from the remaining lions,” it said.
In response to questions from CNA, Mandai Wildlife Group said that three keepers from the Night Safari Carnivore section have tested positive for COVID-19.
Two keepers had initially "tested positive while off-duty", said Mandai Wildlife Group.
Tests were conducted on team members who had been in contact with the two keepers, and a third employee, who was asymptomatic, subsequently tested positive at work and was stood down from duty.
"They received (a) confirmatory positive PCR test on Nov 8," said Mandai Wildlife Group.
In a separate statement, Mandai Wildlife Group said that the Asiatic lion exhibit along the tram route at the Night Safari has been closed since Sunday after the four lions showed respiratory symptoms.
"All the lions remain bright, alert and are eating well. There has been evidence that animals in general do not fall seriously ill from the virus," said Dr Sonja Luz, vice president of conservation, research and veterinary at Mandai Wildlife Group.
"We expect that the lions will make full recovery with minor supportive treatment. However, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics may be prescribed if further treatment is needed."
Dr Luz said that no other animals across the four wildlife parks currently have any "clinical signs of the virus", but added that animal care teams are keeping a close watch on all higher risk species under their care.
"The health and safety of our guests, staff and animals are our top priority. From the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 ... we put in place additional safety measures to reduce the likelihood of asymptomatic animal carers inadvertently passing the disease to susceptible species," Dr Luz said.
Mandai Wildlife Group will take steps to "further strengthen" its handling protocols, including conducting routine antigen rapid tests for the animal care team, she added.
Mandai Wildlife Group's current precautions for staff working with animals include restricting back-of-house access, frequent washing of hands before and after interacting with any animal, donning face masks and gloves when working closely with an animal, and minimising or avoiding direct contact unless required, the group told CNA.
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), there is currently no evidence that animals play a role in the spread of COVID-19 to humans, said AVS.
However, OIE also noted that there have been “sporadic and isolated” reports of animals testing positive for the virus in other countries, after being in close contact with people who are infected with COVID-19.
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