Members of a lowland gorilla troop tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Earlier this month, two of them began coughing. Since California is experiencing the highest daily rate of infections right, the vet decided it prudent to have them tested. In the Jan. 11, 2021 press release, the USDA and National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the primates were positive for the virus.
Even though three gorillas tested positive for COVID-19, the vet has not ruled out the virus’s presence in other members of the troop. Lisa Peterson, the park’s executive director, explained the primates were doing well. They have some congestion and coughing. The troop is quarantined together. “We are hoping for a full recovery,” she added.
Peterson said they believe the primates contracted COVID-19 from an asymptomatic staff member even though the park follows the recommended precautions as detailed by the CDC and S.D. Health Department. Staff members always wear PPE when near the gorillas.
Studies have shown that some non-human primates are susceptible to COVID-19 —however, this the first known case of natural transmission to gorillas. Vets do not know if they will experience any serious reaction to the virus.
The park has been closed to the public since Dec. 6, 2020. Since the gorillas are kept a safe distance from visitors at all times, there is no public health risk.
In addition to the gorillas, natural infections have been confirmed in six other animal species, tigers, lions, mink, snow leopards, dogs, and domestic cats. Even though there are verified cases of mink to human COVID-19 transmission in Denmark and the Netherland, there is no evidence that other species can infect humans.
Unfortunately, the news of the COVID-19 infections at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park confirms earlier research that western lowland gorillas and several other rare or endangered species facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.
“The potential for COVID-like disease outbreak in either captive or wild populations of endangered primates is pretty high,” states Harris Lewin, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of California Davis.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
AP: Gorillas test positive for coronavirus at San Diego park; by Julie Watson
National Geographic: Several gorillas test positive for COVID-19 at California zoo—first in the world; by Natasha Daly
San Diego Zoo Global: 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
Images Courtesy of Ernie Tyler’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License