Two 11-week-old white tiger cubs that died in a Pakistani zoo last month appear to have died of COVID-19, officials have said.

Key points:The cubs died in January with officials believing they had contracted feline panleukopenia virusAn autopsy on their lungs have now led to officials believing they died of COVID-19Workers were tested for the virus after the deaths, with six returning positive results

The cubs died in the Lahore Zoo on January 30, four days after beginning treatment for what officials thought was feline panleukopenia virus, a disease that targets cats’ immune systems and is common in Pakistan

But an autopsy found the cubs’ lungs were badly damaged and they were suffering from 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 more than 12,200 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,” Ms Saleem said.

“It strengthens the findings of the autopsy. The cubs probably caught the virus from the person handling and feeding them.”

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Pakistan’s zoos regularly draw the ire of animal rights activists, who say 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.”

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from February 13 with our coronavirus blog.

Ms Saleem rejected allegations of neglect at the zoo, telling Reuters that animal rights activists were welcome to visit and check the facility’s safety and hygiene protocols themselves.

In December two Himalayan brown bears were airlifted out of the Islamabad Zoo to a sanctuary in Jordan.

That rescue came weeks after an elephant Kaavan was moved from Pakistan to a sanctuary in Cambodia, the culmination of a years-long campaign that included US pop star Cher.

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At the Peshawar Zoo, officials have said four giraffes died in 2020.

Last year two lions at Islamabad Zoo suffocated when workers lit fires in their cages.

Reuters

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