A tiger at New York City’s Bronx Zoo has become the first animal of its kind to test positive for the novel coronavirus.
According to health officials at the US Department of Agriculture, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia tested positive for COVID-19 after showing symptoms of respiratory illness and unfortunately, she isn’t the only big cat to fall ill at the zoo.
The USDA said samples from Nadia were taken for evaluation after a handful of other lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo presented symptoms of the virus. Nadia, along with her sister Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions had developed a dry cough and a decrease in appetite, which prompted zookeepers to look into their condition. At this time, no other animals at the zoo are experiencing similar symptoms and all of the aforementioned wildlife are thankfully expected to recover. A rep from the zoo said in a statement:
“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.”
Based on their findings, the USDA believes the large cats got sick from being exposed to an employee who had COVID-19 but was asymptomatic. Although the facility has been closed to the public since mid-March, Nadia did not start exhibiting any signs of sickness until later that month on March 27.
At a time when most of the country has become obsessed with Netflix‘s Tiger King docuseries, which exposes the atrocities and controversial personalities behind the big cat industry, it’s understandable why this story might hit closer to home for some. Aside from reminding us about Joe Exotic, this unique case also raises a lot of questions about how the novel virus is passed between humans and animals.
“There is no evidence that animals play a role in the transmission of COVID-19 to people,” read an excerpt from the USDA’s press release on the situation. Despite the initial reported outbreak at a food market in Wuhan, China, the organization insists there is “no evidence that any person has been infected with COVID-19 in the U.S. by animals, including by pet dogs or cats.”
In the wake of the news, there’s been concern about the kind of testing used on Nadia and her infected counterparts while many people claim they are still unable to get tested at hospitals across the city. On Sunday, the Bronx Zoo’s Twitter account shared a message from its chief veterinarian, Dr. Paul Calle, which clarified officials did not use or *waste* a human coronavirus test to assess the big cats:
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
Additionally, the USDA said, “further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.” The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that out of an abundance of caution, people who are sick with the coronavirus should limit contact with animals, as noted in a press release published by AP. Sorry to any sick pet owners out there — this most likely means you should hold off on cuddling your family pet until you’re all clear!
Both organizations also do not recommend routine testing of animals for coronavirus. Officials say the pandemic is “ever-evolving” and “public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution.”
[Image via Ivan Nikolov/WENN]