We’ve already seen interspecies transmission of COVID-19 happen in the Bronx, where an asymptomatic zookeeper infected five tigers and four lions. Now, as the infamous Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park reopens, will human visitors expose innocent tiger cubs to coronavirus?
Droves of people descended upon Oklahoma’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, made famous by the Netflix series ‘Tiger King’, when it reopened May 2. People are drawn by the hard-to-resist attraction of petting adorable tiger cubs, despite the cautions by wildlife experts.
National Geographic reported on the first day the park resumed operations, noting the lack of pandemic precautions. The cubs worked long shifts and were expected to look cute for visitors who sometimes waited 4 hours to pet them. With hundreds of people feeding and petting tigers, the felines could contract the virus. It could also easily spread among the throngs of humans yearning to interact with tigers.
Oklahoma’s pandemic restrictions had closed the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park for about a month. Many Netflix viewers had eagerly awaited its reopening. The true crime documentary miniseries ‘Tiger King’ focused on the life of former park owner Joe Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, who is now serving 22 years in prison for his crimes against humans and tigers. Maldonado-Passage’s former partner, Jeff Lowe, now owns the animal park.
To keep a constant supply of darling cubs, some private facilities “speed breed” their tigers, according to National Geographic. Newborn cubs are quickly removed from their mother so that she goes into heat and breeds again. Cub-petting facilities constantly need little tigers that are in the sweet spot of 8 to 12 weeks old. Any bigger and they’ll be dangerous enough to hurt visitors. Tigers may then be bred, exhibited or possibly killed.
At press time, the Bronx Zoo tigers and lions that tested positive for coronavirus are all recovering well. There have also been a few isolated cases of pet cats and dogs with the novel coronavirus.
Image via Wikimedia Commons