A tiger at New York City’s Bronx Zoo has allegedly tested positive to coronavirus after being in contact with a zookeeper who showed no signs of the virus.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), based in New York, confirmed a tiger, Nadia, at the Bronx Zoo had tested positive for COVID-19 after it developed a dry cough and a decrease in appetite.
WCS said while only Nadia had been tested for the virus, six other big cats, three lions and three tigers, had also experienced symptoms.
“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,” WCS said in the statement.
“Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers. It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed the case in its own statement on the matter stating the tiger started showing signs of sickness on March 27.
“This is the first case of its kind. We are still learning about this new coronavirus and how it spreads. This case suggests that a zoo employee spread the virus to the tiger. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19,” the USDA’s statement read.
“State animal and public health officials will continue to work closely with USDA and CDC to monitor this situation and will conduct additional testing if it is warranted.”
Both statements did not mention how the tiger was tested but the WSC said samples were tested at two facilities — one at Cornell University, the other at University of Illinois — with the USDA doing confirmatory testing afterwards.
While it’s been repeatedly stated by health authorities — like the U.S.’s CDC — around the world there is no clear evidence of human-to-animal transmission of the virus, the Bronx Zoo example could have some experts questioning the possibility of it.
A Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong grabbed the international media’s attention this week after scientists found traces of coronavirus in the canine. Following confirmation that the dog’s owner was positive for the virus causing COVID-19, the dog was taken from Hong Kong Island to a nearby animal quarantine facility. Subsequent tests performed on swabs collected from the dog’s nose and throat unexpectedly revealed coronavirus.Read more
There have been a handful of scattered cases around the world alleging pets and animals have contracted the virus. In early March, a dog in Hong Kong allegedly contracted coronavirus after it came in contact with its infected owner. While the test showed the dog had the SARS-CoV-2 virus — what causes COVID-19 — in its system, the test used would not be able to determine whether it was replicating within its immune system. Because of this, it’s hard to determine right now whether human-to-animal transmission is truly possible on the same level it is between humans.
In Australia, no cases of human-to-animal transmission have been recorded but the country’s peak science body, the CSIRO, has shown ferrets can contract the virus in laboratory conditions.
Ferrets, according to the study’s lead researcher, have the relevant receptor in their lungs, ACE-2, which is where the SARS-CoV-2 virus is thought to enter the immune system.
It’s using this knowledge to undertake pre-clinical trials of two vaccine candidates to determine their efficacy and safety before being introduced into human trials.
While the news of the tiger contracting coronavirus is upsetting, it’s the first of its kind and Nadia is expected to make a full recovery. You can rest easy knowing the evidence, so far, says you’re unlikely to infect Fido with coronavirus.
CSIRO has announced it's working on pre-clinical trials for coronavirus vaccine candidates using an animal they previously worked with during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s — the humble ferret.Read more