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Lion at Honolulu Zoo dies after contracting COVID in case prompting broader concern

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 2:29 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 15, 2021 at 5:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A 13-year-old male African lion at the Honolulu Zoo died earlier this week after testing positive for COVID, in a case that is prompting broader concern at the facility.

The lion, named Ekundu, and 12-year-old female lion Moxy both tested positive for COVID.

They were tested after showing signs of an upper respiratory illness on Oct. 4.

Ekundu, who had been treated for epilepsy, started to develop difficulty breathing. The zoo said the lion died a week after first showing signs of illness.

The positive COVID test, however, was only received after Ekundu’s death.

Zoo veterinarian Jill Yoshicedo said while most COVID 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.”

Officials added further tests are needed to determine the role of the viral infection in Ekundu’s death.

The second lion, Moxy, is doing well and expected to make a full recovery.

City officials said it’s not clear where the lions contracted COVID. “But in most other zoos, it has been an asymptomatic keeper or someone else in close contact with the lions,” Yoshicedo said.

All staff in close contact with the lions were previously vaccinated, and subsequently tested negative for COVID. Zoo staff are also continuing to practice “strict biohazard protocols” around animals.

“As animals can contract COVID-19 from humans, our staff are reminded to constantly and consistently work safely and follow protocols to keep our animals safe,” Zoo Director Linda Santos said.

“We also would like to take this opportunity to remind all guests visiting the zoo to wear a mask in the identified zoonotic-risk animal areas, which include primates, cats, dogs and hoofstock.”

Santos added that the zoo is saddened by Ekundu’s death, the only male lion at the Honolulu Zoo.

“It’s a huge loss,” Santos said. “Obviously, we’ve had Ekundu here for a very long time, and now he leaves alone Moxy, his mate. It’s devastating.”

The lion came to facility in 2010, and raised three cubs with Moxy.

African lions typically live 15 to 25 years in captivity.

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