Bronx Zoo tiger is the first of its species to be confirmed with COVID-19

A Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Wildlife Conservation Society (which manages the Zoo).

A Malayan Tiger, the same species as the animal infected at the Bronx Zoo.
Image credits Charles Barilleaux / Flickr.

Only one tiger — a 4-year-old female named Nadia — was tested, the zoo explains, as the sample harvesting procedures require the animal to be tranquilized, the USDA explains. However, several other big cats have shown symptoms indicative of the disease, such as dry cough: Nadia’s sister, Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions, according to Axios.

The tiger is believed to have been infected by an asymptomatic zoo worker who was shedding the virus. This is the first instance of a tiger being infected with COVID-19, the USDA adds. None of the zoo’s snow leopards, cheetahs, clouded leopards, Amur leopards, pumas, or servals are showing any signs of illness so far.

Cough of the tiger

“This positive COVID-19 test for the tiger was confirmed by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory, based in Ames, Iowa. We tested the cat 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,” explained the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Although the Bronx Zoo closed to the public last month, the animals still need to come into contact with the human staff who care for them during the lockdown. Nadia first exhibited symptoms of the disease on March 27, according to the Zoo.

The tiger’s unenviable first means that veterinary health experts are unsure of how to proceed. Both the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring the situation and will collaborate with the zoo’s staff and other healthcare workers in order to keep the tiger as healthy as possible and aid its recovery.

At the same time, this is a unique opportunity to learn more about the virus and its workings. “Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19,” the USDA explains. The USDA has already notified the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of this case.

“Only one tiger was tested as the collection of diagnostic samples in big cats requires general anesthesia. Since all tigers and lions were exhibiting similar respiratory symptoms, the attending veterinarian felt it was in the best interest of the animals to limit the potential risks of general anesthesia to one tiger for diagnostics,” the agency explains.

Although there is “no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people” at this time, and that the “USDA and CDC do not recommend routine testing of animals for this virus,” they do recommend that anyone who is sick with COVID-19 or suspects they might be sick “should restrict contact with animals, out of an abundance of caution, including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people.”

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