Detroit Zoo ramps up precautionary measures for its big cats after Bronx Zoo tiger diagnosed with coronavirus


  • Patti Truesdell/Detroit Zoological Society

Animal care workers at the Detroit Zoo are taking extra precautions after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, last week.

Communications officials at the Detroit Zoo, which is home to three Amur tigers, say that none of its animals, nor those at the Belle Isle Nature Center, are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19. They are, however, implementing additional monitoring of essential staff who work closely with animals so as to prevent transmission.

“Animal care workers wear personal protective equipment when working with certain species," Detroit Zoological Society communications manager Alexandra Bahou told The Detroit Free Press.

According to Bahou, tigers and other big cats join primates and bats, the alleged potential source of the COVID-19 pandemic, as those species are prone to contracting human respiratory infections.

Nadia, the Bronx Zoo's Malayan tiger who tested positive for COVID-19, is alleged to be the first documented wild animal to contract the virus from a person. Paul Calle, chief veterinarian for the Bronx Zoo, suspects the tiger contracted the virus from an “asymptomatic zookeeper,” telling The National Geographic that “it's the only thing that makes sense.” Six other tigers at the zoo are also exhibiting symptoms.

Domestic animals have made the news, too, when it comes to COVID-19. Two dogs in Hong Kong contracted the virus, and a domestic cat in Belgium tested positive with SARS-CoV-2, the betacoronavirus that causes COVID-19, after its infected owner returned home from a trip to Italy.

Both wild and house cats can contract feline coronavirus, which can be transmitted to other cats. Scientists have not found evidence that infected cats pose a threat to people.

Dirk Pfeiffer, an epidemiologist at the City University of Hong Kong, says cats should not be considered a “major factor in the spread of the disease” and that “the focus in the control of COVID-19 therefore undoubtedly needs to remain firmly on reducing the risk of human-to-human transmission.”

The Detroit Zoo has been closed to the public since March 16.

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