This one seems largely to have slipped under the radar: an OIE report indicates that a lion at the Bronx Zoo in New York has also tested positive for COVID-19. This follows the earlier report of a positive tiger at the Bronx Zoo that was presumably infected by a staff member. At the time, it was indicated that several of their big cats (tigers and lions) were similarly affected (showing mild respiratory disease) but were not tested because of the need to anesthetize the cats to get samples. Apparently, some testing was done later.
It would be nice to know why they tested this particular lion (e.g. did it have more serious disease than the others? Or more prolonged signs?), the timing of animal’s illness (especially relative to the other big cats being ill), and whether this was the only other animal tested.
The OIE report indicates testing was done on April 15. It would also be helpful to know when the sample was actually collected. The original positive tiger reportedly first showed signs of illness on March 27, with 3 other tigers and 3 lions showing signs of disease by April 3 (this also raises the question about whether these were secondary infections from the first tiger or later onset infections from the same human exposure; cat-cat spread seems possible (at least within the tiger group)). If this lion was one of the sick cats on April 3, the timing of the latest sample (12 days) could suggest a rather long viral shedding period. Everyone seems pretty tight lipped about this (and the presumptive positive pet cats from New York) so we might not hear much more for a while. The report does state that all of the affected cats are progressively improving and that there are no other animals with suspected infection at the zoo.
Regardless, this is still something I’d classify as “interesting but not overly surprising.” The most interesting aspect may be the question of whether the staff member who cares for the tigers and lions infected multiple cats through transient contact, or whether the infection spread amongst the cats after one or more was exposed via the staff member, showing the potential transmissibility of this virus to cats, big and small. We now know that domestic cats can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 and pass the virus to other cats, so it’s not overly surprising that something like this happened with the bigger version of the household cat. The duration of infection is the thing that needs to be investigated further, and reported more clearly in this case.