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Two white tiger cubs reportedly died from Covid-19 in Pakistan: Zoo officials

Reuters, LAHORE

Two 11-week-old white tiger cubs who died last month in a Pakistani zoo seem to have been killed by Covid-19, officials said.

The cubs died in the Lahore Zoo on Jan. 30, four days after beginning treatment for what officials thought was feline panleukopenia virus, a disease that zoo officials said is common in Pakistan and targets cats' immune system. But an autopsy found the cubs' lungs were badly damaged and they were suffering from a severe infection, with pathologists concluding they died from Covid-19. Although no PCR test for the new coronavirus was conducted, zoo deputy director Kiran Saleem told Reuters the zoo believes the cubs were the victims of the pandemic that has killed 12,256 people in Pakistan.

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

Zoos in Pakistan routinely attract the wrath of animal rights advocates who say that hundreds of animals have died from poor living conditions there.

"The last two white tiger cubs have died at Lahore zoo and 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, she said, the world is creating policies for people. "Animals in pet shops, zoos, and everywhere else should not be forgotten."

Saleem dismissed the zoo's claims of abuse, telling Reuters that animal rights advocates were welcome to visit and review the safety and hygiene procedures of the facility themselves.

Two Himalayan brown bears were airlifted from Islamabad Zoo in December to a sanctuary in Jordan.

The rescue came weeks after the elephant Kaavan was relocated to Cambodia's sanctuary, the result of a years-long campaign involving US pop star Cher.

According to officials at the Peshawar Zoo, four giraffes died in 2020. Last year, as staff lit fires in their cages, two lions at Islamabad Zoo suffocated.

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