The eight lions — four males and four females — were infected with an older variant of COVID-19, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology told local outlets

By Eric Todisco
May 04, 2021 12:20 PM
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Lions Ram and Laxman rest in an enclosure at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad, India
Credit: Mahesh Kumar A/AP/Shutterstock

Eight Asiatic lions have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad, India, according to local reports.

The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) confirmed to The New Indian Express that the lions — four males and four females — have contracted an old variant of the virus.

Per reports, this is the first case of lions in India testing positive for COVID-19.

"We were told almost a week ago about lions displaying mild symptoms," CCMB director Rakesh Mishra told the news outlet. "After we conducted RT-PCR tests, it was confirmed that eight of them are positive. We also did genome sequencing to find out if the strain came from human beings. The report suggests that the virus might have first infected the animals' caregivers and was later transmitted to the lions."

Mishra added: "We have given medical treatment and instructions to the zoo officials on how to take care of the animals and to make sure other animals don't get infected with the virus. We are in continuous communication with the officials and we have been told that the lions are responding well to the medication."

Visitors stand outside the entrance gate of the Nehru Zoological Park
Credit: NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images
An Asiatic lion rests in the shade at Nehru Zoological Park in the Indian city of Hyderabad
Credit: NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images

India is currently experiencing an alarming surge of COVID-19 cases, with over 357,316 new cases being reported in the country on Monday alone, according to The New York Times.

In total, India has reported over 20.2 million COVID-19 cases since the onset of the pandemic and over 222,000 deaths, The Times reports.

Citizens in India are holding the government accountable for reopening the country prematurely, following a dramatic decline in case numbers during the winter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared "victory" over COVID in January. The government has since been accused of releasing false numbers and information about the growing death rate.

Experts say the actual number of COVID cases could be 30 times higher than what's been reported, according to CNN.

India Covid crisis
Indian patients use oxygen cylinders in hospital after a leakage in the oxygen plant killed 22 COVID-19 patients in Nashik, India, on April 21, 2021.
| Credit: Vinod Singh/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Hospitals, graveyards and crematoriums have become overwhelmed with new cases and deaths in heavily populated areas of India. As life-saving oxygen is in short supply, some patients have died in the streets while searching for a hospital. Meanwhile, crematoriums have had to increase their funeral pyres. In the city of Bhopal, some have had to increase their capacity from 12 pyres to 50, according to the Washington Post.

President Joe Biden announced last month that the United States will join several European countries in sending aid to India. The U.S. will provide financial assistance and raw materials for vaccines.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.