WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- The Bronx Zoo identifies one tiger inside the facility that has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, USDA confirms.
- There are two Malayan tigers, two Amur tigers and three African lions inside the facility that had developed symptoms of respiratory illness.
- The zoo believes that an employee had spread the virus to the big cats inside the facility.
The Bronx Zoo in New York City has identified a number of tigers and lions started showing signs of respiratory illness and confirmed one Malayan tiger named Nadia, four years old, is positive for coronavirus.
The zoo had temporarily shut down operations, closing gates to the public, starting March 16 following the continuing outbreak across the city, but the first animal only started showing symptoms on March 27. The operating theory is that one zoo employee had spread the virus to the big cats inside the facility.
There are two Malayan tigers, two Amur tigers and three African lions inside the facility that have developed dry coughs, some with wheezing and decreased appetite.
Dr. Paul Calle, the chief veterinarian at the zoo, says that under their care, the tiger was tested for the virus with the goal to “contribute to the world’s continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus.”
The test results bore questions about disease transmission in animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that the tiger has contracted the virus following tests performed at the veterinary laboratory of the department, reporting the first known infection in an animal in the country or a tiger anywhere.
“There doesn’t appear to be, at this time, any evidence that suggests that the animals can spread the virus to people or that they can be a source of the infection in the United States,” said Dr. Jane Rooney, a veterinarian, and a USDA official.
The USDA still has not commissioned mass testing for animals, in zoos or elsewhere, or of zoo employees. The USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories, however, tested a small number of animal samples that had returned negative results except for the tiger.
Hong Kong has reported that animal infection is probable after close contact with infected humans. The authority on the region has concluded, however, that animal to human transmission is improbable. This comes after a pet dog tested positive for low levels of the virus back in February and early March.
Per the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health, the susceptibility of different animal species to coronavirus is yet to be understood to determine disease transmission across species.
“In a question of being thorough, we did want to specifically test,” he said. “Only Nadia was tested because it takes anesthesia to get a sample from a big cat. Her temperature was taken at the same time, and it was normal,” Dr. Calle continued.
The seven animals showing symptoms had been in contact with the zookeeper. The Bronx Zoo reports that there are no other cats on the property that show symptoms, assuring that “appropriate preventive measures” are now in place for both their workers and the animals under their care.