4 tigers, 3 lions test positive for COVID-19 at Bronx Zoo three weeks after first big cat contracted virus
Four tigers and three lions have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the non-profit organization that runs the zoo. That makes a total of eight big cats who have contracted the coronavirus at the zoo.
The latest findings come nearly three weeks after one tiger at the zoo was confirmed to have the virus and six other cats were said to be exhibiting symptoms. Testing on these six cats now confirms that they have COVID-19. One more tiger has also tested positive despite showing no symptoms. The testing of these cats was done in veterinary laboratories and resources used did not take from those being used for human testing, said officials.
“On April 5, 2020, we reported that a four-year-old female Malayan tiger had tested positive for COVID-19 and three other tigers and three African lions were showing similar symptoms. Samples for testing from the tiger, Nadia, were collected from her nose, throat, and respiratory tract while she was under anesthesia,” says a statement. It further says, “Subsequently, we can confirm that the three other tigers in Tiger Mountain and the three African lions that exhibited a cough have also tested positive for COVID-19. This testing was done by using a fecal sample test developed by our laboratory partners that do not require the animals to be placed under anesthesia. The fecal tests confirmed our suspicion that all seven cats had the infection, and also determined that one tiger at Tiger Mountain that never developed a cough was also positive for the disease.”
Zoo officials say that all eight animals are eating well. “All eight cats continue to do well. They are behaving normally, eating well, and their coughing is greatly reduced,” said the zoo.
The tigers and lions were tested “out of an abundance of caution” and to ensure that any knowledge gained about COVID-19 will “contribute to the world’s continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus.”
Preventive measures are in place for all staff who are caring for cats in the four zoos run by the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. They include the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan, the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn and the Queens Zoo. The zoos have been closed since March 16.
According to the Bronx Zoo, none of its snow leopards, cheetahs, clouded leopard, Amur leopard, puma, or serval are showing any signs of illness. “Our cats were infected by a staff person who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms. Preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any of our felids in our zoos to the disease,” says the statement.
The announcement comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that two house cats in New York tested positive for the coronavirus. Both pets have mild symptoms and are expected to recover. The cats live in two separate areas of New York state.
“The CDC and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) announced the first confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infection in two pet cats. These are the first pets in the US to test positive for SARS-CoV-2,” says an April 22 statement.
“Both had mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery. SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported in very few animals worldwide, mostly in those that had close contact with a person with COVID-19,” says the CDC.
In the New York cases, a veterinarian tested the first cat after it showed mild respiratory signs. No individuals in the household were confirmed to be ill with COVID-19. The virus may have been transmitted to this cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside the home, say experts. Samples from the second cat were taken after it showed signs of respiratory illness. The owner of the cat tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the cat showing signs. Another cat in the household has shown no signs of illness.
“Both cats tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 at a private veterinary laboratory, which then reported the results to state and federal officials. The confirmatory testing was conducted at NVSL and included a collection of additional samples,” says the CDC.
According to CDC experts, public health officials are still learning about SARS-CoV-2, but there is no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the US. “Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals that may compromise their welfare. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals, including pets, could be affected,” says the CDC.