Zoos, wildlife sanctuaries re-evaluate protocols after tiger tests positive for coronavirus

4-year-old Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo tests positive for the coronavirus, in what is believed to be the 1st known infection in an animal in the US

4-year-old Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo tests positive for the coronavirus, in what is believed to be the 1st known infection in an animal in the US

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Zoos and wildlife sanctuaries across the nation are re-evaluating and revamping their protocols to ensure the safety of both animals and employees after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the new coronavirus over the weekend.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens said it’s taking it day by day and adjusting when it needs to.

“We’re following the guidelines not only set by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), but we’re also following guidelines by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), as well,” said Dr. Allison Pettrson, a veterinary intern at the Jacksonville Zoo. "We also split our staff in half, so we have half of our team working at the beginning half of the week and then we go through a complete cleaning cycle and then we switch to the second half of our team.”

Along with the Jacksonville Zoo, Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary said members of its tight-knit family are making sure to constantly wash their hands.

“Obviously, with a lot more hand washing than normal,” said Tracy Collins, spokesperson for Catty Shack Ranch. “It’s a very small skeleton crew of five to six people.”

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The case of the 4-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia at the Bronx Zoo that tested positive for the coronavirus is believed to be the first known infection in an animal in the U.S. or a tiger anywhere, federal officials and the zoo said Sunday.

Nadia — and six other tigers and lions that have also fallen ill — are believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who wasn’t yet showing symptoms, the zoo said. The first animal started showing symptoms March 27, and all are doing well and expected to recover, said the zoo, which has been closed to the public since March 16 amid the surging coronavirus outbreak in New York.

Nadia, a 4-year-old female Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo, has tested positive for the coronavirus. (WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY)

The finding raises new questions about transmission of the virus in animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which confirmed Nadia's test result at its veterinary lab, said there are no known cases of the virus in U.S. pets or livestock.

The American Veterinary Medical Association and the] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been recommending that out of an abundance of caution, people ill with the coronavirus should limit contact with animals — advice that the veterinary group reiterated after learning of the tiger’s test result.

“So we are just taking every precaution that we can and doing the best we can to monitor them,” Pettrson, the veterinary intern at the Jacksonville Zoo, said.

At the Bronx Zoo, Nadia, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions developed dry coughs, and some of the cats exhibited some wheezing and loss of appetite, said Dr. Paul Calle, the zoo’s chief veterinarian. The seven sickened cats live in two areas at the zoo, and the animals had contact with the same worker, who is doing OK, zoo officials said. They said there are no signs of illness in other big cats on the property.

At Caddy Shack Ranch, Collins said, “There’s always a doctor full time on staff, so, fortunately, they’re set up for this type of environment if something were to happen.”

According to the CDC, animals can become infected by the coronavirus, but scientists do not believe they can spread it to humans.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and Catty Shack Ranch are both in need of donations during this time, and you can find out how to donate by clicking on the links below: