Officials at Utah’s Hogle Zoo said four of five African lions have tested positive for the COVID-19 delta variant.
They said nasal swabs were "collected voluntarily through training" after the lions exhibited symptoms of sneezing and coughing.
Collected samples were sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory and came back positive for the delta variant, zoo officials stated. They added they do not know how the lions contracted the virus.
"The health and safety of UHZ staff, animals and visitors continue to be our primary concern," officials shared in a Monday press release.
"Prior to these positive cases in the lions, UHZ established a stringent animal care COVID-19 safety plan. Existing protocols such as increased PPE (personal protective equipment), regulated staff involvement, increased cleaning procedures and staff health monitoring continue to be enforced," they added.
According to Dr. Nancy Carpenter, director of animal health at Hogle Zoo, the zoo follows guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, Utah Department of Health and the Salt Lake County Health Departments.
Officials said they recommend visitors wear masks, especially in enclosed areas at the zoo. They said they will "continue to monitor and manage specialized animal care dictated by CDC guidelines" and keep working with other zoos across the country that are experiencing similar animal infections.
Visitors of Hogle Zoo will still be able to see the African lions in their exhibit, as officials say there is no known risk to the public.
"Designed as an open-air environment to best mimic their natural environment in the wild, this allows for a safe distance to view animals," they said. "The main viewing areas are partitioned by glass."
As of Monday, officials said no other animals at the zoo are exhibiting symptoms of infection.
“We remain extra cautious and vigilant during the pandemic, with a key focus on the safety of staff, guests and animals,” Carpenter said.
She added that zoo staff, veterinary teams and animal care teams across the organization continue to remain attentive of other animals and if they are displaying symptoms and will require treatment.