SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Members of a gorilla troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The zoo says two members of the troop of western lowland gorillas began exhibiting a cough on Jan. 6. Zoo staff collected fecal samples and tested them for the virus. Two days later, preliminary results showed the presence of COVID-19 in the gorilla troop. Those results were confirmed on Jan. 11.
The gorillas are expected to fully recover, the zoo said. But officials believe this to be the first known instance of transmission of the virus to great apes. Because of that, it's unclear how severe gorillas can react to the virus.
"Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well," said Lisa Peterson, executive director at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. "The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking. We are hopeful for a full recovery."
While the results confirmed COVID-19 in some of the gorillas in the troop, the zoo says that doesn't rule out the virus in other members as well. Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a press conference on Monday that at least two gorillas had tested positive and another gorilla is symptomatic.
"It's just an area that's long been a concern, human to animal transmission, but our beloved gorillas, obviously, we are concerned about," Newsom said.
The zoo believes the gorillas contracted the virus from an asymptomatic staff member, despite the zoo following coronavirus-related safety measures like wearing masks and gloves. A spokesperson for the zoo said when the gorillas tested positive, the zoo tested everyone on the Wildlife Care Team. One person on that staff tested positive but was asymptomatic, so they believe that is where the virus came from.
"For almost one year our team members have been working tirelessly, with the utmost determination to protect each other and the wildlife in our care from this highly contagious virus," said Peterson. "The safety of our staff and the wildlife in our care remains our number one priority."
The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park locations have been closed to the public since Dec. 6 when California's regional stay-at-home order went into effect, closing zoos and aquariums.
According to information provided by the zoo, there have been reports of household animals testing positive, including dogs, cats, and a ferret. Also, there have been cases of tigers, lions, snow leopards and a puma testing positive.
The zoo believes these are the first known cases of a natural transmission to great apes in a zoo setting.
A spokesperson for the zoo also said it's unclear which of the eight gorillas are the positive animals because feces from their enclosures was tested but they don't know who the feces belonged to, so they're assuming all have been exposed at this time.
There are currently no approved coronavirus vaccines for animals, however information provided by the zoo says vaccine development and testing is underway for some species. People who with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 should avoid all contact with animals, including pets.