The coronavirus has infected over a million people worldwide and now a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City has tested positive.
A four-year-old Malayan Tiger named Nadia is the first confirmed animal in the US to test positive for the coronavirus. “We tested the cat [Nadia] 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,” said the zoo in a press release.
Dr. Paul Calle, Bronx Zoo chief veterinarian wrote, “The COVID-19 testing that was performed on our Malayan tiger Nadia was performed in a veterinary school laboratory and is not the same test as is used for people. You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations.”
Scientists think the virus originated from an animal at a live market in Wuhan, but since then there have only been human to human transfers in the United States. However, the zoo believes that Nadia became infected by an asymptomatic zookeeper, who has not been identified.
“This is the first time that any of us know of anywhere in the world that a person infected the animal and the animal got sick,” Dr. Calle told Reuters.
In late March, Nadia started to dry cough and her appetite decreased. A test was performed and the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa confirmed that the tiger was infected with COVID-19.
Six other big cats, including Nadia’s sister Azul, started to show symptoms, but have not been tested. The zoo reports the big cats’ appetites have decreased a bit but otherwise are in good health. Nadia, Azul, the two Amur tigers and three African lions are all expected to make a full recovery.
The novel coronavirus has many unknowns and vets are closely monitoring the big cats. No other big cats have shown any symptoms, but zookeepers are taking extra precautions – especially with the great apes. Great apes, our closest living relatives, are more susceptible to human respiratory diseases and need to be protected.
The World Health Organization states that there is no evidence that the coronavirus can be passed from pets to humans but advises people who are infected to limit their interaction with their pets. The zoo reiterated this point in their statement by saying there is “no evidence that any person has been infected with COVID-19 in the US by animals, including by pet dogs or cats.”
Andrea Powell is an animal enthusiast that resides in West Michigan. When not writing, she is exploring the great outdoors with her dogs and horses.