The US Department of Agriculture, on Sunday, announced that a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City tested positive for coronavirus.
It said six other big cats are exhibiting symptoms consistent with the illness.
The Malayan tiger, named Nadia, likely contracted the coronavirus from an infected—but unknown—asymptomatic zookeeper.
Chief veterinarian at Bronx Zoo, Paul Calle, said, “It’s the first time, to our knowledge, that a (wild) animal has gotten sick from COVID-19 from a person. It’s the only thing that makes sense. The zoo has been closed to visitors since March 16.”
The zoo has the seven cats under veterinary care and expects them to recover, Calle said, though the Wildlife Conservation Society, the nonprofit that runs the Bronx Zoo, cautioned in a news release that it is unknown how the disease might progress in animals.
According to Calle, after developing a dry cough in late March, the four-year-old Malayan tiger, Nadia, was tested for the virus on April 2.
Nadia’s sister, two Siberian tigers, and three African lions have also had coughs and a loss of appetite, though they have not been tested.
Calle said, “Considering what’s going on in New York City, we, of course, did the COVID testing.”
The team took samples at the zoo, after sedating Nadia. They sent the samples for testing to the New York State Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University and the samples University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
“It is not the same type of test that health care providers give to people, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations.
“I suspect that there are other cases, and now that we’re sharing this information I have a hunch other likely cases will turn up,” Calle added.
Several domestic animals had previously tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, including a Pomeranian and a German shepherd in Hong Kong, a domestic cat in Belgium.