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African lions at Utah’s Hogle Zoo contract delta variant of coronavirus

Four of the Utah cats tested positive, while the fifth wouldn’t submit to a nasal swab.

(Utah's Hogle Zoo) Vulcan, a male African lion, is one of four lions at Utah's Hogle Zoo that tested positive for the delta variant of the coronavirus, zoo officials announced on Oct. 25, 2021. A fifth lion did not allow keepers to swab her nose, but it's assumed she also contracted it.

Four of the five African lions at Utah’s Hogle Zoo have tested positive for the delta variant of the coronavirus — and the fifth probably contracted it as well, zoo officials announced Monday.

The five lions initially showed symptoms of sneezing and coughing, the zoo said. Acting on previous training, four of them — males Vulcan and Baron, and females Nobu and Calliope — voluntarily allowed keepers to swab their noses. The fifth, a female named Sela, did not allow a swab test.

The swabs were sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, which tested them and returned the positive results for the four lions. Keepers assume Sela also is infected, a zoo spokesman said.

“The lions continue to do well and are only showing mild signs,” Bob Cisneros, Hogle’s associate director of animal care, said in a statement. “We remain hopeful the infection will resolve and they will recover naturally on their own.”

Zoo officials said they do not know how the lions contracted the virus.

No known risk to public

The African lions will remain on exhibit at the zoo, officials said, because there is no known risk to the public. The lions’ habitat is an open-air environment, mimicking what the animals would experience in the wild. It allows for a safe viewing distance while the main viewing areas also are partitioned by glass.

Zoo staff are watching for coronavirus symptoms around the zoo, and so far no other animals under the zoo’s care have exhibited signs of infection, officials said.

“We remain extra cautious and vigilant during the pandemic, with a key focus on the safety of staff, guests and animals,” Nancy Carpenter, director of animal health, said.

Hogle Zoo already had a stringent animal care plan with COVID-19 safety in mind, officials said. Zoo staff have increased cleaning procedures and use of personal protective equipment, and the zoo also regulates staff contact with the animals and monitors staff health — all following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Utah Department of Health and the Salt Lake County Health Department, Carpenter said.

Masks are recommended for zoo visitors, particularly in enclosed areas.

Though the lions have apparently contracted the coronavirus, a recent report from the Salt Lake County Health Department, which measured COVID-19 vaccine rates by zodiac sign, found that Salt Lake County residents born under Leo, the sign of the lion, had the highest vaccination compliance, at 70%.

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