The first known case in the world tested positive for COVID-19 is a tiger from the Bronx Zoo in New York, one of seven sick tigers at the zoo. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announces that six other large felines show symptoms of the disease.
“As far as we know, this is the first time that a wild animal has been infected with COVID-19 from a person,” says Paul Calle, chief veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo. Nadia, the Malaysian tiger, probably contracted coronavirus from an asymptomatic, but undiagnosed caregiver. “It’s the only thing that makes sense,” says the chief veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo. Since March 16 the zoo has been locked to visitors.
A Pomeranian, a German Shepherd from Hong Kong and a domestic cat from Belgium in a row with several domestic animals have been tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Scientists are moving speedily to find out what other species might be infected since a new Chinese study has found that felines could infect each other, both wild and domestic felines are susceptible to feline coronavirus. This fact of them catching SARS-CoV-2 was not known before.
World opening at the Bronx Zoo
A four-year-old Malaysian tiger Nadia was tested for SARS-CoV-2 on April 2, according to Calle, after he developed a dry cough in late March. Nadia’s sister, two Siberian tigers and three African lions also had coughs and lost their appetite, although they were not tested. Though the Wildlife Conservation Society, the NGO that manages the Bronx Zoo, warned in a news release that the disease cannot progress to animals, the zoo has the seven felines under their care and expect them to recover.
The veterinary team underwent a series of diagnostic and blood tests when Nadia began to show symptoms. “Given what is happening in New York, of course, I did the COVID-19 test,” says Calle. After doping Nadia the team brought samples at the zoo and the test samples have been analyzed in different laboratories. “So there is no testing competition between these very different situations” since it is not the same type of test that healthcare providers offer to people.
There is currently no evidence that domestic or captive wild animals can spread the new coronavirus to humans, according to the USDA and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus that infects humans is thought to have developed from a coronavirus commonly found in bats.
What is to expect?
Whether tigers and lions are more susceptible to coronavirus it is not demonstrated, as there are still many other questions without an answer. But the other big size cats in the zoo, apart from the spotted leopard, the snow leopards, cheetahs, a cougar, an Amur leopard, all of them present no signs of illness.
Other species that can be susceptible to coronavirus are monkeys, according to research. This is how comes that caregivers across the country have made extra efforts to protect large monkeys because they can easily catch respiratory diseases from humans.
The Bronx Zoo team communicated the diagnosis to the scientific community and zoos, says Calle. “I suspect there are other cases, and now, when we share this information, I have a number of other possible causes.”
Dan Ashe, president of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), responsible for accrediting more than 200 zoos in the US, including the Bronx Zoo, congratulated Calle’s team for their quick action. He says AZA helped the deliverance of information from the USDA, which gives warning of a potential forward from humans to felines.
“If we had known that the caretaker had COVID-19, he would not have been at work,” he says. “If [the virus] can be transmitted from humans to large cats, the most important thing we can do is to test people.”
“I ask those who have seen Tiger King, do you think a unit like that will be able to react normally to information like this?” says Dan Ache.
He also claims that most of them do not have veterinary staff and are unlikely to undergo tests. Caring for the chicks and contact with foreign persons, services, in fact, provided by these units, “are revolting” he says, not talking about the fact that the CDC and USDA recommend maintaining the distance between people, but between people and cats.
John Goodrich, the scientific director, and manager of the Panthera program for tigers, an organization that aims to conserve large felines around the world, is concerned about wild tiger populations.
“Large felines such as tigers and lions are already facing many dangers in their survival in the wild. If COVID-19 is transmitted to large felines in the wild and becomes the main cause of mortality, the virus can become a major threat to the future of these species. ”
In summary, therefore to date only human-to-human transmission has been demonstrated and, in the sporadic cases in which some animals have tested positive, it has always been a transition from man to pet and not vice versa. The World Organization for Animal Health says studies are underway to better understand the issue and urges anyone who is ill to limit contact with animals, domestic and non-domestic. Biologists and researchers have warned that the virus could pose a threat to some wild animals such as great apes and that measures are needed to reduce the risk of contagion in gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans.