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San Diego Zoo and Safari Park giving animals coronavirus vaccine

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 21:38:29-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are in the process of vaccinating their animals.

Zoetis, a pharmaceutical veterinarian company, just donated enough doses to vaccinate 180 animals at the Zoo and 90 animals at the Safari Park. It’s a two-dose vaccine designed for animals and given three weeks apart.

Nadine Lamberski, Chief Conservation and Wildlife Health Officer for San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, said this is an important step toward protection for both animals and humans.

“It’s important to vaccinate them because they’re part of our community. We can spread infections to them and they can spread them back to us, so in order to get that heard immunity in our community, we want to vaccinate as many animals as possible,” said Dr. Lamberski.

Transmission did happen at the Safari Park in January when an asymptomatic employee passed coronavirus to a gorilla troop. The gorillas had a cough but made a full recovery.


This exposure caused the Safari Park to become the first zoo in the country to begin vaccinating animals earlier this year. Thirteen great apes were vaccinated at the time.

Now, the focus is on getting current animals vaccinated. 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.

Lamberski said they are not forcing the vaccine on the animals. Instead, they’re giving it to animals who cooperate, so who choose to sit still for long enough to vaccinate.

“If they want to walk away, they can. There are other times we may vaccinate an animal opportunistically, which means when we get our hands on to do an exam for some reason, if the animal is deemed healthy then we'll go ahead and vaccinate at that time,” said Lamberski.

They also will not be filming any of the inoculations in order to make sure the animals feel comfortable.

She said so far, there have been minimal reactions to the vaccines.

“We did have one individual who rubbed his shoulders a little bit, we had another animal that we thought might have a fever, kind of held his head, but that was just for a day and we didn't see any the second time those individuals were vaccinated,” she said.

Animals at the zoo are no strangers to vaccines. Many receive vaccines for the flu, tetanus, West Nile virus and more. This increases the ease of getting animals the coronavirus vaccine.

Zoetis, the company that makes the vaccine, is donating doses to any zoos in the country that wants them.