SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego Wildlife Alliance officials announced Friday that a male snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo is suspected to be positive for COVID-19.
Officials said zoo specialists on Thursday noticed the snow leopard has a cough and nasal discharge and collected fecal samples to be tested for the coronavirus. The results at the zoo confirmed the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and results were sent to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System for follow-up testing, which also showed a positive result.
Those positive tests were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories, where results are pending.
While the snow leopard is doing well and showing no additional symptoms, zoo officials said the female snow leopard and two Amur leopards that share the same habitat with the male snow leopard are assumed to have been exposed as well and they are being monitored for symptoms.
Those three leopards are being quarantined in their habitat and their habitat will be closed to visitors.
It's unclear how the male snow leopard may have contracted the virus. The zoo said that all employees adhere to COVID-19 protocols and any workers who are unvaccinated are required to wear masks and practice health and safety protocols at all times.
"While we await the results of tests to determine if the snow leopard is positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, we can assure you the snow leopard and the Amur leopards who share his habitat are receiving excellent care," said Dwight Scott, executive director at the San Diego Zoo. "Our veterinary teams and wildlife care specialists at both the Zoo and Safari Park are highly skilled, dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to ensure the well-being of the wildlife in our care."
The zoo said the leopard had not yet been vaccinated.
Earlier this year, a gorilla troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park contracted COVID-19. It was the world's first known COVID-19 transmission from humans to gorillas. Staff described those gorillas infected as lethargic, had runny noses, and showed lung problems, which are all symptoms mirroring those of infected humans.
The infected gorillas were given steroids and antibiotics. One gorilla, 49-year-old Winston, received monoclonal antibody treatment. The others showed mild symptoms but healed with ibuprofen.
Animals being vaccinated
Currently, both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are in the process of vaccinations with a COVID-19 vaccine for animals. The zoo said this week that non-human primates and carnivores will be prioritized, including many monkeys and big cats. Animals that might receive the vaccine include primates, like vervet monkeys or Hamadryas baboons; felids, like lions, tigers, cheetahs; mustelids, like otters; and carnivores, like hyenas and dholes. Other animals may be selected to be vaccinated as well.
The zoo has said it will not force the animals to get vaccinated, and instead, give it to animals who cooperate and choose to sit for long enough to be inoculated. Zoo officials add that they will wait for opportunities to vaccinate animals, such as during regularly scheduled medical screenings.
San Diego Zoo and Safari Park animals are no strangers to vaccines. Many already receive vaccines for the flu, tetanus, West Nile virus, and other illnesses.
New Jersey-based Zoetis, the company that makes the vaccine being used by the zoo, is donating doses to any zoos in the U.S. that wants them.