HONOLULU (KHON2) — Honolulu Zoo officials announced a 13-year-old male lion with underlying health conditions named Ekundu died on Monday, Oct. 11. Ekundu and another 12-year-old female lion, Moxy, both tested positive for COVID.
On Monday, Oct. 4, zoo officials noticed both lions exhibiting symptoms of an upper respiratory illness with coughing, and they were tested for SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID in humans.
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According to officials, Ekundu was treated for epilepsy for over five years and stopped eating as he got sicker. Veterinary and animal care teams anesthetized him to provide treatments after he could no longer receive his supportive medication in his food.
Although Ekundu’s upper respiratory issues were resolved due to these treatments, he then showed signs of lower respiratory disease and difficult breathing. Despite continued treatment and being constantly monitored, Ekundu died about a week after these symptoms began.
Zoo officials only received results that concluded boh Ekundu and Moxy tested positive for COVID after Ekundu’s passing as testing was done on mainland laboratories.
“While most SARS-CoV-2 infections in large non-domestic cats have been mild illnesses that respond well to supportive care, Ekundu was, unfortunately, one of the newer cases where COVID seems to be linked to severe pneumonia and tragic loss of life in these species,” said Honolulu Zoo veterinarian Jill Yoshicedo.
The source of the lions’ infection is currently unknown.
“Right now we don’t know the source of this outbreak but in most other zoos it has been asymptomatic keeper or someone in close contact with the lions,” Yoshicedo said. “The way our exhibits are designed, there’s very little chance for some sort of public contact.”
Moxy’s symptoms appeared to diminish quickly, but she is still being monitored and is receiving treatment. Her condition is currently stable, and she is expected to make a full recovery.
Officials also said all staff who were in close contact with the lions were vaccinated and compliant with the city’s employee vaccination policy. They all tested negative for the coronavirus, as well.
The CDC has documented COVID cases among pet dogs and cats, as well as zoo animals including otters, big cats and non-human primates. The CDC said humans can transmit the virus to animals but not so much the other way around.
“There have been some studies done where we have seen some infections in cats that can be spread to other cats,” Kailua Animal Clinic Veterinarian Dr. Candice Denham said. “It doesn’t happen to be a problem with dogs, but there’s no documented cases of cats transmitting it to humans.”
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Honolulu Zoo is still waiting for confirmatory testing for COVID, as well as pathology results to determine the extent of the infection’s role in Ekundu’s death.