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Gorillas at San Diego Zoo Test Positive for COVID

photo of gorilla

Jan. 12, 2021 -- Several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the coronavirus and have mild symptoms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, marking the first known cases among gorillas in the U.S. and potentially the world.

So far, three of eight western lowland gorillas have tested positive. They live together at the park, which has been closed to the public since Dec. 6 as part of California’s lockdown policies to slow the spread of the virus.

“Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” Lisa Peterson, the park’s executive director, said in a statement.

“The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking,” she said. “We are hopeful for a full recovery.”

Two of the gorillas began coughing on Jan. 6, and a California animal health lab tested the feces of the group. Positive test results were confirmed for three gorillas, and all eight are being resampled and monitored, the USDA reported. The park will share details with health officials and scientists to develop safety measures to protect gorillas in the wild.

Park staff believe the infection came from a staff member who tested positive for the virus but didn’t have symptoms. The staff member wore a mask around the gorillas while working with them. On Monday, the park added safety measures for staff, including face shields and eye goggles for those who work with animals.

Park veterinarians are monitoring the gorillas, who will stay in their park habitat as they recover. They’re receiving vitamins, fluid, and food but not specific treatment for the virus. Zoo officials are talking to experts who are treating COVID-19 in humans in case more severe symptoms develop.

“This is wildlife, and they have their own resiliency and can heal differently than we do,” Peterson told The Associated Press.

Wildlife experts have expressed concerns about the virus infecting gorillas, since they share similar DNA with humans and are social. Other animals, such as tigers and minks, have contracted the virus, typically after coming into contact with humans, but this seems to be the first case in great apes.

“People with COVID-19 can spread the virus to some animals during close contact,” according to the USDA statement. “It is important for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection.”

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Sources

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Confirmation of COVID-19 in Gorillas at a California zoo.”

San Diego Zoo: “Gorilla troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park test positive for COVID-19: The great apes continue to be observed closely by the San Diego Zoo Global Veterinary Team.”

Associated Press: “Gorillas test positive for coronavirus at San Diego park.”

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