Perhaps it’s not surprising that the first known U.S. case of an animal testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, should be in New York, the disease’s epicenter in North America. But what is shocking is the species — a Malayan tiger.
Several lions and tigers in the Bronx Zoo developed a dry cough consistent with coronavirus’ leading symptoms. The zoo veterinarian decided to test 4-year-old Nadia, a Malayan tiger, and send the sample to a veterinary lab. Because the test requires general anesthesia when dealing with such a strong animal, the veterinarians didn’t test the other big cats that are showing symptoms. Nadia’s sister Azul, three African lions and two Amur tigers are also coughing. A male Amur tiger that shares their enclosure is so far asymptomatic. The zoo has been temporarily closed since March 16.
“We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution and will ensure any knowledge we gain about COVID-19 will contribute to the world’s continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement. “Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert and interactive with their keepers. It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries.”
Bronx Zoo veterinarian Paul Calle also noted that the test used on Nadia is different than the type of tests available to humans and that there is no competition in available tests for animals versus for humans.
“The handler might have been [close to] the tiger, and may have sneezed or coughed, which could cause infection,” Vanessa Barrs, professor of companion animal health and disease at Hong Kong’s Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences, told Time. “The tiger could also have come into contact with something the handler earlier touched.”
While this is the first big feline to test positive for the virus, a Belgian house cat previously contracted the disease. Two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong also tested positive for coronavirus. These four pets lived with owners who contracted COVID-19 and probably caught the virus from them. There are no known cases of pets passing the virus to humans. The USDA advises people sick with COVID-19 to stay away from pets and other animals.
Image via ©WCS