- A Malayan tiger housed at Bronx Zoo in New York City has tested positive for COVID-19.
- Four tigers and three African lions showed symptoms of the disease, which they likely contracted from an asymptomatic caretaker, who had COVID-19.
- There are a handful of cases of pets getting infected from their owners who had the disease but there is no evidence of these animals transmitting the virus to humans.
- The rapid spread of the virus has sparked concerns about humans infecting other wildlife populations, especially great apes that are susceptible to human diseases because they share more than 95% of genetic material with humans.
Nadia, a Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new SARS-CoV-2 virus. This is the first confirmed case of a tiger contracting the novel coronavirus.
“We tested the cat 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,” Wildlife Conservation Society, the NGO that runs the Bronx Zoo said in a statement. WCS also manages the Central Park Zoo, the Queens Zoo, and Prospect Park Zoo.
The Malayan tiger is a critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List, with only about 250 of the big cats remaining in the wild. Three other tigers at the Bronx Zoo have also shown symptoms of the illness, including Nadia’s sister, Azul, and two Amur tigers (P. t. altaica) that occupy the zoo’s Tiger Mountain exhibit. Three African lions also showed symptoms consistent with COVID-19. All of them developed a dry cough.
Since the big cats were showing similar symptoms and testing requires putting them under general anesthesia, the attending veterinarian decided to test only one animal for diagnostic purposes. General anesthesia poses other risks to these animals that can prove fatal.
WCS said it expects the big cats to make a full recovery.
More than 1.2 million people worldwide have contracted the disease and nearly 70,000 have died as of April 5. In the U.S. state of New York, the worst-hit part of the country, there are more than 122,000 cases and 4,100 deaths.
The case highlights the uncertainty about the way the new coronavirus could affect animal populations. A handful of widely publicized cases of pets showing signs of COVID-19 has led researchers to look into the question. It also raises concerns about domestic animals transmitting the disease.
Cats can be infected with the novel coronavirus and spread it to other cats, according to a study done by researchers in China that is still under review. People with COVID-19 have been asked to limit contact with their pets by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, scientists emphasize there is no evidence of cat-to-human transmission.
House cats and big cats like lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards, belong to the same family, Felidae.
A caretaker likely infected the tigers at the Bronx Zoo. “Our cats were infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms,” WCS said.
The zoo has been closed to the public since mid-March, and the first tigers displayed symptoms of COVID-19 on March 27.
As yet, there is no evidence that animals can transmit the virus to humans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement.
The rapid spread of the virus, however, has sparked concern about humans infecting other wildlife populations, especially great apes that are susceptible to human diseases because they share more than 95% of genetic material with humans. A study published in March suggested that cats, ferrets, orangutans, monkeys and some bat species may be at risk from SARS-CoV-2.
WCS said that the Bronx Zoo’s leopards, cheetahs and puma were not showing any signs of the disease.
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