Eight big cats test positive for COVID-19 after zookeeper accidentally infects them

Lya_Cattel/iStockBy JON HAWORTH

(NEW YORK) — Eight big cats at the Bronx Zoo have tested positive for COVID-19 after a zookeeper accidentally infected them.

Staff at the Bronx Zoo, which has been closed since March 16, first reported that a four-year-old female Malayan tiger named Nadia had tested positive for COVID-19 on April 5 and that three other tigers and three African lions were also showing similar symptoms but had yet to be tested.

However, after test samples from Nadia were collected from her nose, throat and respiratory tract while she was under anesthesia, the zoo confirmed that the three tigers and three African lions that were exhibiting coughing symptoms all tested positive for COVID-19.

Another tiger that did not show any symptoms for coronavirus was also tested was subsequently found to have tested positive for the disease bringing the total number of sick cats at the zoo, five tigers and three lions, to eight.

While Nadia, the first tiger to have been reported sick was tested under anesthesia, the other cats were tested by using a fecal sample test developed by the zoo’s laboratory partners that did not require the animals be placed under anesthesia.

“We are grateful for the cooperation and support of the New York State Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University and the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, where the initial COVID-19 testing of samples was performed and the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory where confirmatory testing was conducted,” the Bronx Zoo said in a statement released on April 22.

The Bronx Zoo also said that the testing of these cats was done in veterinary laboratories and that resources used on them did not take away from those being used for human testing.

“We tested the tigers and lions out of an abundance of caution and will ensure any knowledge we gain about COVID-19 will contribute to the world’s continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus,” the Bronx Zoo said. “All eight cats continue to do well. They are behaving normally, eating well, and their coughing is greatly reduced.”

The zoo also houses snow leopards, cheetahs, a clouded leopard, an Amur leopard, a puma and a cerval but, currently, none of the other cats are exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms.

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