National Zoo’s great cats test positive for virus

The Smithsonian’s African Lion, Luke, has tested positive for COVID-19. (Smithsonian)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2021—The great cats at the Smithsonnian’s National Zoo in Washington have all tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a zoo news release yesterday, six African lions, a Sumatran tiger and two Amur tigers have tested presumptive positive for the virus that causes COVID1-19.

No other animals at the Zoo are showing any signs of infection.

Last weekend, animal keepers observed decreased appetites, coughing, sneezing and lethargy in several lions and tigers.

Fecal samples for all great cats were collected and tested presumptive positive. Final results are expected in the next few days, according to the release.

The zoo’s Samatran tiger, Damai, tested positive for the virus. (Smithsonian)

All lions and tigers are being treated with anti-inflammatories and anti-nausea medication to address discomfort and decreased appetite. In addition, all are being treated with antibiotics for presumptive secondary bacterial pneumonia, according to the release.

They remain under close observation and, because their condition does not require they remain inside, staff will manage the cats’ access to their outdoor habitats.

Given the substantial distance between the animals and visitors, the public is not at risk, according to the release.

The Zoo has conducted a thorough investigation of all staff who were in close proximity to the lions and tigers. There is no evidence to pinpoint the source of the infection, according to the release.

While it is possible the infection was transmitted by an asymptomatic carrier, it has been standard practice for all animal care staff and essential staff to mask indoors in all public and non-public areas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture authorized the use of a SARS-COV-2 vaccine made specifically for zoo animals by Zoetis. 

The first round of vaccine disbursement will be administered to select animals identified as a susceptible species at both the Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia when it becomes available in the coming months.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to humans is considered low; however, humans can spread the virus to animals in some situations, especially during close contact.

Reports of animals infected with COVID-19 from around the world include cats, dogs and one ferret. Zoo animals include several types of big cats, otters and primates. Several white-tailed deer in several U.S. states have been reported to be infected with COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Staff and Smithsonian’s National Zoo news release

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