Oh my! Lions and tigers test positive for COVID-19 at National Zoo, no bears

(Indianapolis Zoo via AP)

The lions and tigers at the Smithsonian National Zoo have caught COVID-19. No word on any infected bears yet. Six lions and three tigers are believed to have the virus after “presumptive positive” this week.

The group of great cats includes African lions, a Sumatran tiger, and two Amur tigers. They all tested positive for COVID-19 initially and final results are expected in the next few days. Testing began last weekend when the cats began showing signs of illness. They are all being treated now.

The zoo said that it conducted the tests after animal keepers last weekend “observed decreased appetites, coughing, sneezing and lethargy in several lions and tigers.”

The statement added that all of the infected animals “are being treated with antibiotics for presumptive secondary bacterial pneumonia.”

“They remain under close observation and, because their condition does not require they remain inside, staff will manage the cats’ access to their outdoor habitats,” the zoo said, adding that the public is not at risk due to “substantial distance between the animals and visitors.”

So far none of the other animals have shown signs of the virus.

The Zoo has conducted a thorough investigation of all staff that were in close proximity to the lions and tigers,” the statement continued, with officials noting that there had been “no evidence to pinpoint the source of the infection.”

“While it is possible the infection was transmitted by an asymptomatic carrier, it has been standard practice for all animal care staff and essential staff to mask indoors in all public and non-public areas,” the zoo added.

The source of their infection hasn’t been determined, though it hasn’t been found to be with the animal keepers. It’s possible they were infected by an asymptomatic carrier. The zoo staff do mask up indoors in all public and non-public areas. The good news is all the animals will soon be receiving an animal version of the COVID-19 vaccines. It is made by Zoetis and has been authorized by the Department of Agriculture, on a case-by-case basis. Zoetis is a company that spun off from Pfizer. The company has given more than 11,000 doses of its vaccine for animals to zoos and animal sanctuaries around the country. There are about 70 zoos across the country that have access to vaccines.

Last week Zoo Atlanta announced that 13 gorillas tested positive for COVID-19. Their symptoms were similar to those of the great cats at the National Zoo – coughs and loss of appetite. When recovered, the gorillas will also receive the Zoetis vaccine. All of their 20 gorillas continue regular COVID-19 testing.

CDC says that the risk of animals transmitting the disease to humans is extremely low. However, humans may be able to transmit the virus to animals. Since there is a substantial distance between the great cats at the National Zoo, there is no threat to human visitors.