In the first known animal case in the U.S., a tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, federal officials and the zoo said Sunday in a statement. Nadia, a 4-year-old Malyan tiger, was tested for the virus after she and six other tigers and lions started showing symptoms of coronavirus, including a dry cough. The positive test for COVID-19 was confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratory, based in Ames, Iowa.
Nadia was tested “out of an abundance of caution,” the zoo said. Nadia was the only one tested as she was already under anesthesia to be examined; anesthesia is required to get a sample from such a big cat, the Associated Press reported. While the sick animals are experiencing a decrease in appetite, all are expected to recover.
The animals were infected by a zoo caretaker who had not shown any symptoms at the time of care. “Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats,” the statement said. The zoo has been temporarily closed since March 16. The USDA has advised that anyone sick with coronavirus maintains minimal contact with animals, including pets until more information is known on the transmission of the virus.
Although there are currently no other cases of animals contracting the disease in the U.S., other countries, including China, have reported cases in which dogs and cats have become infected after contact with pet owners or caretakers sick with the coronavirus. While pets, including dogs and cats, can acquire the virus from human beings, they cannot pass it on to them, health authorities found. “There doesn’t appear to be, at this time, any evidence that suggests that the animals can spread the virus to people or that they can be a source of the infection in the United States,” Dr. Jane Rooney, a veterinarian and USDA official, said according to the AP. While other animals have been tested in the U.S. only Nadia’s results came back positive, Rooney said.
According to the AP, the results came as a shock to zoo officials, who now hope the knowledge of this test result will provide more information on how different species react to COVID-19 and serve as a resource for people on how the disease is transmitted.
Concerns raised by the public on the testing of animals and not humans prompted the zoo to issue a statement on Facebook from Paul Calle, the zoo’s chief veterinarian. “The COVID-19 testing that was performed on our Malayan tiger Nadia was performed in a veterinary school laboratory and is not the same test as is used for people. You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories,” the statement read. Calle added that “there is no competition for testing between these very different situations.”
Nadia’s positive results come as disheartening news for the public and animal lovers alike. This pandemic is spreading beyond humanity into the animal world. As pet owners and caregivers, we must be more cautious in ensuring that our loved ones, including animals, are protected and safe from this severe disease.