Sep 12, 2021 - Health

Thirteen gorillas at Atlanta zoo test positive for COVID-19

A Western Lowland Gorilla,

A western lowland gorilla, an endangered animal species, sits in an exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo in 2007. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Thirteen western lowland gorillas at Zoo Atlanta are receiving treatment for COVID-19 after initial tests came back positive, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported.

Why it matters: Zoo Atlanta confirmed in a statement on Friday that "a number" of its 20 gorillas had tested presumptively positive, and that the zoo believes they were infected by a fully vaccinated team member.

  • The team member was wearing PPE and was asymptomatic that day, the statement added.

State of play: The gorillas were tested for the virus after they exhibited classic symptoms, including coughing, runny noses and minor changes in appetite, the statement said.

  • Oral and fecal samples were sent to the University of Georgia's Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which came back with 13 presumptive positive results.
  • The zoo is now awaiting confirmation from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, which also received samples.
  • Gorillas that are at risk of developing complications are being treated with monoclonal antibodies, the statement added.
  • All 20 of the gorillas will be tested regularly regardless of symptoms, the zoo added.

Once they recover, the gorillas — as well as the zoo's Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, African lions and clouded leopard — will receive the Zoetis coronavirus vaccine developed for animals.

What they're saying: “The teams are very closely monitoring the affected gorillas and are hopeful they will make a complete recovery,” Sam Rivera, senior director of animal health at the zoo, said in the statement.

  • “They are receiving the best possible care, and we are prepared to provide additional supportive care should it become necessary," Rivera said.

The big picture: Other zoos around the country have also begun to vaccinate some of their charges.

  • On Aug. 30, the Detroit Zoo announced it had begun vaccinations, starting with its gorillas, chimpanzees, tigers and lions.
  • The Oakland Zoo began vaccinating its animals in July.
  • In February, great apes at the San Diego Zoo became the first animals in the country to be inoculated against the virus, per National Geographic.
  • Zoetis plans to send 11,000 doses of the animal vaccine to more than 80 institutions around the country for free, according to National Geographic.
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