A 4-year-old Malayan tiger has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Since March 16, the Bronx Zoo has been closed to the public in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite their enclosure, a Malayan tiger named Nadia, her sister, two Amur tigers, and three African lions, have fallen ill.
The Wildlife Conservation Society is temporarily closing the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and New York Aquarium effective March 16, 2020. Please visit our website for details. https://t.co/gaMwdNMnmv pic.twitter.com/CV2LbOQNsO
— Bronx Zoo (@BronxZoo) March 15, 2020
The animals first began exhibiting symptoms of illness on March 27, showing signs of dry coughing, while others wheezed and experienced loss of appetite.
After undergoing an examination — that was validated by the lab of the U.S. Department of Agriculture — Nadia the tiger tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. This is the first known case of a tiger contracting the disease in the world.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said zoo director, Jim Breheny. While stunned by the news, the director tried to remain optimistic: “Any kind of knowledge that we get on how it’s transmitted, how different species react to it, that knowledge somehow is going to provide a greater base resource for people,” he said.
From Dr. Paul Calle, Bronx Zoo chief veterinarian; “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.
— Bronx Zoo (@BronxZoo) April 6, 2020
It is suspected that the virus was transmitted through an infected zookeeper whose symptoms were dormant at the time. That zookeeper is now okay according to zoo officials.
A number of people took to Twitter to voice their concern on how why a tiger got tested when many people in the country could not. Dr. Paul Calle, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, stated that the lab of testing was an animal lab unequipped to handle to human testing, saying “There is no competition for testing between these two very different situations.”
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.”
— Bronx Zoo (@BronxZoo) April 6, 2020
While Nadia and the other animals (which weren’t tested due to a shortage of anesthesia) are expected to make a full recovery, the infection does bring up the question of how exactly the transmission works betweens humans and animals.
There has been at least one instance of an animal contracting the virus. On March 19, a German Shepherd belonging to a Hong Kong resident tested positive for after its owner had contracted the disease.
However, there was no indication that the animals could themselves cause infection, as emphasized by a spokesperson for the Animal, Fisheries and Conversation Department (AFCD):
“There is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of COVID-19 for humans or that this virus can cause the disease in dogs.”
In North America, there have not been any recorded cases of animals or livestock contracting the virus, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Furthermore, “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 USDA official and veterinarian, Dr. Jane Rooney, in an interview.
In their lab, the USDA tested a number of animals — all tests came back negative except for Nadia. Accordingly, the USDA recommends that people and zoos not routinely test their animals.
Furthermore, experts maintain that contamination is not driven from animal to human, but from human to human.
[Featured image: @bronxzoo]