4 of Hogle Zoo's African lions test positive with delta variant

Four out of five of the Hogle Zoo's African lions have tested positive for the delta variant of COVID-19, zoo officials announced Monday.

After the lions had been sneezing and coughing, they were tested for the disease with a nasal swab, according to a statement released by Utah's Hogle Zoo. The samples were then sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory, where the results were positive.

The fifth lion is also showing symptoms and is presumed to have the virus, but did not cooperate for a nasal swab, according to a zoo representative.

Zoo officials do not know how the animals contracted COVID-19. They "continue to do well" and are only exhibiting mild symptoms, zoo officials said.

"We remain hopeful the infection will resolve and they will recover naturally on their own," said Bob Cisneros, associate director of animal care, in the statement.

"The health and safety of (Utah Hogle Zoo) staff, animals and visitors continue to be our primary concern. Prior to these positive cases in the lions, (Utah Hogle Zoo) established a stringent animal care COVID-19 safety plan. Existing protocols such as increased (personal protective equipment), regulated staff involvement, increased cleaning procedures and staff health monitoring continue to be enforced," zoo officials said.

Visitors to the zoo are encouraged to wear masks, especially in enclosed areas.

Officials said they will "continue to monitor and manage specialized animal care dictated by CDC guidelines," and that they continue to work with other zoos across the nation experiencing animal infections.

The lions will remain on exhibit "as there is no known risk to the public," zoo officials added, and their enclosure is designed to "best mimic" their natural environment, allowing visitors to view the animals at a safe distance.

No other animals at Hogle Zoo have shown symptoms of infection.

Across the country, the USDA has confirmed 236 COVID-19 cases in nonfarm animals, including seven other lions. The Washington, Denver and Pittsburgh zoos have each had lions test positive for the disease this year.