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Updated 23rd April 2020
Yesterday, the Bronx Zoo announced that four additional tigers and three lions at their facility tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. This is in addition to the four-year-old female Malayan tiger that initially tested positive in early April. All the big cats are under veterinary care and are recovering well. The new positive cases were confirmed from fecal samples from the six previously suspected animals who also had signs of mild respiratory illness when Nadia was tested, and one additional tiger that did not.
While it appears that big cats can catch this disease from humans, there is no indication at this time that humans are at risk of catching this disease from big cats (or domestic cats). Our understanding of the virus that causes COVID-19 is still developing, as is our understanding of its potential impacts on animals, both wild and domestic. IFAW wildlife rehabilitation centers and partners are currently taking extra safety precautions with all animals under their care, but especially with species considered most at risk from this virus including big cats, great apes, and bats. We continue to monitor the situation and adapt protocols to ensure that all IFAW-supported animals receive the best possible care – now and always.
For additional information on the recent positive cases see the WCS Bronx Zoo press release:
7th April 2020
In late March, four tigers and three lions at the Bronx Zoo began displaying respiratory symptoms including a dry cough and wheezing, signaling a potential COVID infection. One of the cats, a 4-year old Malayan tiger named Nadia, was anesthetized for examination and sample collection. Samples were shipped to two different veterinary testing labs. On April 4th, the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed that the tiger tested positive for the presence of SARS-Coronavirus-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Nadia served as a representative of the entire group of affected cats, so that only one animal would need to be sedated, which can be highly risky for big cats. The assumption now is that all seven big cats have COVID-19. They all however appear to be recovering from the virus, with none of the other wild felids at the zoo showing any symptoms of the disease. It is currently believed that the cat(s) became infected from an asymptomatic keeper--likely while cleaning the cats’ exhibits, night houses, or handling other equipment used in their enclosures.
Important to note from this case:
1) There is no evidence that wild or domestic cats can transmit the virus to people and the CDC recommends using the same common-sense hygiene practices that you always follow with your pets, including washing your hands after handling animal food or waste, and cleaning up after them;
2) The cats are now recovering and no other wild cats at the zoo appear to have been infected.
3) The disease is likely not highly contagious for pets. Despite the 1.2 million COVID-19 positive humans in the world, there are only 4 known cases of natural infections known in pets (and one in a managed-care tiger).
4) This is the first confirmed non-human COVID-19 case in the United States, though thousands of domestic cats have already been tested.
5) Domestic cats are very different from wild cats. For example, certain viral infections, like Canine Distemper, can cause severe and even fatal disease in big cats but have no effect on domestic cats. It is thus possible that tigers and other big cats are more susceptible to this virus than domestic cats.
6) IFAW’s animal rescue teams are staying on top of all developments related to COVID-19 in both wild and domestic animals. Before and during the pandemic, our teams and partners have followed international best practices to prevent the spread of zoonotic infections between humans and animals. With this latest development we are advising them on additional precautions to put in place to protect vulnerable wild populations, particularly wild cats and apes, from becoming infected with COVID-19.
7) IFAW is also reaching out to partners affected by the economic downturn to ensure that vulnerable communities have the resources available to keep their pets with them despite financial hardship, and that wild animal sanctuaries and rehabilitation facilities have the resources needed to keep both staff and animals safe.
For additional information, please visit:
United States Department of Agriculture
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
World Organisation for Animal Health