India closes all tiger reserves after Covid outbreaks in zoos

The entrance gate of the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad, India, closed for visitors on May 4. A number of Asiatic lions tested positive for Covid-19 in the zoo.

New Delhi (CNN)The Indian government has ordered the temporary closure of all tiger reserves to tourism, after a spate of Covid-19 outbreaks in zoos around the country.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority, an agency under the government's environmental ministry, issued its order on Monday after the death of a Covid-positive lioness a few days prior.
"This latest instance of a zoo animal getting infected by Covid-19 once again indicates the high likelihood of disease transmission from affected human beings to captive wild animals," said the order. "A similar transmission may also happen in tiger reserves."
    To prevent tigers and other wildlife from getting infected, all tiger reserves must close for tourism activities until further notice, the order said.
      Tigers are an endangered species and fewer than 4,000 remain on Earth, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Several thousand tigers live in reservations in India, which has seen its population increase in recent years thanks to conservation efforts including expanded forest cover and penalties of jail time for killing the animals.
      The Arignar Anna Zoological Park has begun the process of quarantining and treating the animals exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms.
      The latest outbreak took place at the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, also known as the Vandalur Zoo, in the southeastern city of Chennai, the Tamil Nadu state government said in a news release.
      A number of Asiatic lions, an endangered species numbering only in the hundreds, had shown symptoms of the disease in the zoo. On Thursday, a symptomatic 9-year-old lioness named Neela died. It remains unclear whether Covid-19 was the direct cause of the animal's death.