Tiger at Bronx Zoo Tests Positive for Coronavirus

by Aditi

A Tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City has been tested positive with the COVID-19  and six other big cats are showing symptoms regarding with the illness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Sunday afternoon.

Paul Calle, chief veterinarian for the Bronx Zoo says, “It’s the first time, to our knowledge, that a [wild] animal has gotten sick from COVID-19 from a person.” The Malayan tiger, named Nadia, likely contracted the coronavirus from an infected person who is not yet discovered. “It’s the only thing that makes sense,” Calle says. The zoo has been closed to visitors  from March 16.

Several  other domestic animals had previously tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, including a Pomeranian and a German shepherd in Hong Kong, and a domestic cat in Belgium.

Cats, both wild and domestic, are susceptible to pandemic  coronavirus, but until recently, it was unknown whether they could contract SARS-CoV-2. A new Chinese study has discovered that cats may be able to infect each other, and scientists are in running to learn what other species may be able to be infected by this.

A world first at the Bronx Zoo

According to Calle, after a dry cough in late March, the four-year-old Malayan tiger, Nadia, was tested for the virus on April 2.  Nadia’s sister, two Siberian tigers, and three African lions have also had discovered with coughs and a loss of appetite, however, they have not been tested.  Calle added that the zoo has the seven cats under veterinary care and expects them to recover soon, though the Wildlife Conservation Society, the nonprofit that runs the Bronx Zoo, published in a news release that it’s unknown how the disease might progress in animals.

When Nadia started showing symptoms, the team of the veterinary did a number of  tests and blood work. “Considering what’s going on in New York City, we of course did the COVID testing,” Calle said. The team took samples at the zoo, after sedating Nadia and sent the samples for testing to the New York State Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University and to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. It is not the same type of test thatis provided to people, says Calle, “so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations.”

What’s next?

This is all new completely , Calle says, so there are many unanswered questions, including whether tigers and lions are more in danger  to coronavirus than other animals. None of the zoo’s other big cats, including snow leopards, cheetahs, a clouded leopard, an Amur leopard, and a puma are showing  any symptoms.

Zookeepers around the country have been putting  extra efforts to protect apes in their care, as  apes can easily catch respiratory illnesses from humans. Experts have warned that they may be particularly in danger to coronavirus.

Calle said that the Bronx Zoo team has shared the diagnostic information widely with the zoo and scientific community.  And she also added, “I suspect that there are other cases, and now that we’re sharing this information i have a hunch other likely cases will turn up.”

President of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Dan Ashe,  which recognized more than 200 zoos in the U.S., including the Bronx Zoo,  and commends Calle’s team to make some quick actions. He says that the AZA has distributed the information from the USDA, and cautioned about the potential transfer from humans to felids, and from the Bronx Zoo, to increase safety measures, including wearing masks and goggles to protect animals and keeping a proper distance as much as possible.

Ashe says he believes the priority should be to test people. “If we’d known the keeper had COVID-19 they wouldn’t have been at work,” he added, “If the virus can go from people to animals, the most important thing we can do is test the people.”

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