Sept. 14, 2021 -- Zoo Atlanta says some of its western lowland gorillas have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The gorillas were tested after zoo employees noticed coughing, nasal discharge, and loss of appetite in some of the animals, the zoo said in an update on its webpage.
Testing began and fecal, nasal, and oral swab samples were sent to the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Georgia, where they came back presumptively positive. The zoo is seeking confirmation on the samples from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, Zoo Atlanta said.
The zoo didn’t say how many gorillas tested positive, but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said 13 of 20 gorillas did.
The zoo veterinary team is treating the gorillas at risk of developing complications with monoclonal antibodies. The gorillas will be regularly tested.
Zoo Atlanta says it has been authorized to use the Zoetis vaccine, which is designed for animals at risk of becoming infected with the virus. The gorillas will be vaccinated as they recover. The zoo will also use the vaccine on its Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, African lions, and clouded leopard.
“The teams are very closely monitoring the affected gorillas and are hopeful they will make a complete recovery. They are receiving the best possible care, and we are prepared to provide additional supportive care should it become necessary,” said Sam Rivera, DVM, the zoo’s senior director of animal health.
“We are very concerned that these infections occurred, especially given that our safety protocols when working with great apes and other susceptible animal species are, and throughout the pandemic have been, extremely rigorous.”
The gorillas may have gotten COVID from a zoo employee who has tested positive for COVID. The team member was vaccinated, wore protective gear, and showed no symptoms on the day they reported to work, Zoo Atlanta said.
The gorillas don’t post a transmission risk to zoo-goers, or vice versa, because of physical distance between guests and animal habitats, Zoo Atlanta said. Humans may transmit the virus to animals but “there is currently no data to suggest that zoo animals can transmit the virus to humans,” Zoo Atlanta said.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that a troop of eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park were treated for the virus in January. All recovered.