Seven more big cats test positive for coronavirus

FOUR MORE TIGERS and three lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York City have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, the zoo announced Wednesday afternoon, following a National Geographic inquiry. This comes nearly three weeks after one tiger at the zoo was confirmed to have the virus and six other cats were said to be exhibiting symptoms.

The diagnosis of the tiger, named Nadia, represented “the first time, to our knowledge, that a (wild) animal has gotten sick from COVID-19 from a person,” Paul Calle, chief veterinarian for the Bronx Zoo, said April 5.

The big cats likely contracted the coronavirus from an infected but asymptomatic zookeeper whose identity is unknown, Calle says: “It’s the only thing that makes sense.” Calle says.

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The zoo has been closed to visitors since March 16. Initially it did not plan to test the other cats showing symptoms, because doing so would require sedation, which can be dangerous. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsequently updated an online database with information that a lion in New York had also been confirmed as testing positive for the virus on April 15.

National Geographic contacted the Bronx Zoo seeking more information on April 22. And shortly thereafter the Wildlife Conservation Society, the nonprofit that runs the Bronx Zoo, issued a press release announcing that four additional tigers and three lions had tested positive. The zoo confirmed in the press release that the additional tests were done using fecal samples and did not require sedation.

It is not clear when the additional tests on the three lions and four tigers were conducted or when the zoo received the results; a zoo spokesperson did not respond to questions about the timing. The USDA did not respond to National Geographic’s request for comment by press time.

Several domestic animals have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, including two cats in New York State—the first in the United States, the USDA announced today. A Pomeranian and a German shepherd in Hong Kong, as well as a domestic cat in Belgium, have also tested positive.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today issued new guidelines on the virus for pet owners, saying that while it does not recommend widespread testing at this time, it encourages cat owners to keep their cats indoors whenever possible.

Both wild and domestic cats had been known to susceptible to feline coronavirus—but until recently, it was unknown whether they could contract SARS-CoV-2. A new Chinese study has found that cats may be able to infect each other. Scientists now are rushing to learn what other species may be able to be infected by it.