We obviously know humans are susceptible to COVID-19. The new strain of coronavirus has spread to cause a global pandemic. But we weren’t really considering animals in all of this—not aside from maybe how the strain originated. Until now. According to a news release from the Bronx Zoo in New York City (via CNN), a tiger has tested positive for coronavirus.
The zoo tested Nadia, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger, after noting symptoms of respiratory illness, including a dry cough. To clarify, it’s not the same test as the ones medical professionals give to humans. Nadia’s one of many animals at the zoo with symptoms, though the zoo has only administered the test to her so far. The process is difficult and requires sedation. Nadia’s sister Azul and two more Amur tigers in the Tiger Mountain enclosure at the zoo are also visibly sick. So are some lions.
Public health officials believe the virus was passed to the animals by an “asymptomatically infected” employee caring for them.
“During the course of feeding and doing enrichment [employees] will come within feet of [the animals] but on opposite sides of the barrier,” Dr. Paul Calle, chief veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo, told The New York Times.
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
According to the news release, there is no evidence that any other animals at the zoo are exhibiting symptoms. The animals are in generally good health otherwise, and are “bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers.” But due to lack of research, it’s hard to say what their prognosis will be. Novel infections affect all species differently.
Nadia isn’t the first feline to contract coronavirus. A cat in Belgium seemed to contract coronavirus in March after it displayed symptoms, including dry cough, diarrhea, and nausea. Its owner received a COVID-19 diagnosis after a trip to Italy. However, that case is a little more complicated. According to Science News, though the cat’s feces and vomit contained traces of SARS-CoV-2, it’s almost impossible to determine if the infection is what made the cat sick, and it’s still unclear if cats can transmit the disease themselves.
We’re still in the early days of understanding this virus. There’s no concrete information to report about what it means that a tiger contracted COVID-19. For now, let’s listen to the advice of the Agriculture Department, which recommends humans diagnosed with the coronavirus limit contact with their pets.
Featured Image: Tu7uh/Wiki Commons