White tiger cubs likely died of Covid, zoo says

Two tiger cubs who recently died in a Pakistani Zoo appear to have been killed by Covid-19, officials have said.

The two 11-week-old white tiger cubs who lived at Lahore Zoo died four days after beginning treatment for feline panleukopenia virus, a common virus affecting cats’ respiratory systems.

However, an autopsy has revealed severe lung damage, with pathologists concluding they died from Covid-19.

Although no PCR test for coronavirus was conducted, the zoo’s deputy director Kiran Saleem told Reuters the zoo believes the cubs were the victims of the pandemic, which has killed 12,256 people in Pakistan.

“After their death, the zoo administration conducted tests of all officials, and six tested positive, including one official who handled the cubs,” Ms Saleem said. “It strengthens the findings of the autopsy. The cubs probably caught the virus from the person handling and feeding them.”

Pakistan’s zoos regularly receive hefty criticism from animal rights activists, who say hundreds of animals have died from poor living conditions there.

“Once again the negligence of the management and authorities has come out,” Zufishan Anushay, founder of JFK (Justice for Kiki) Animal Rescue And Shelter, told Reuters.

“White tigers are extremely rare and need a specific habitat and environment to live a healthy life. By caging them in unhygienic conditions with no medical arrangements, we will keep witnessing these incidents.

“Covid-19 is a new virus, and the world is making policies for humans,” she said. “It should not forget animals in pet shops, zoos and everywhere else.”

Ms Saleem rejected the allegations of neglect at the zoo, telling Reuters that animal rights activists were welcome to visit and check the facility’s safety and hygiene protocols themselves.

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In December two Himalayan brown bears were airlifted out of the Islamabad Zoo to a sanctuary in Jordan.

That rescue came weeks after an elephant, Kaavan, was moved from a Pakistani zoo to a sanctuary in Cambodia, the culmination of a years-long campaign that included pop icon Cher amongst its supporters.

At the Peshawar Zoo, officials have said four giraffes died in 2020. Last year, two lions at Islamabad Zoo suffocated when workers lit fires in their cages.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention also reports several animals in zoological facilities have tested positive for Covid-19 in America, including large cats, great apes, lions, tigers and a puma.


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