Great Cats Tested Presumptive Positive For COVID-19 at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo

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Six African lions, a Sumatran tiger and a Amur tiger have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. Last weekend, fanciers noticed decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing and lethargy in many of the lions and tigers. Stool samples were collected for all large cats and tested hypothetically positive. Final results are expected in the next few days. All lions and tigers are treated with anti-inflammatories and anti-nausea medications to treat discomfort and decreased appetite. In addition, they are all treated with antibiotics for presumed secondary bacterial pneumonia. They remain under close observation, and because their condition does not require them to be kept indoors, staff will manage the cats’ access to their outdoor habitats. Due to the large distance between animals and visitors, the public is not in danger. There are no signs of infection in any other animals in the zoo.

The health and safety of Smithsonian employees, animals, and visitors is our top priority. The zoo’s current COVID-19 protocols restrict behind-the-scenes access to all animal areas and require the use of personal protective equipment, hygiene, cleaning and self-examination of staff and health management. The zoo’s COVID safety and response protocols have been established and are strictly followed.

The zoo conducted a thorough investigation of all employees who were in close proximity to the lions and tigers. There is no evidence to determine the source of the infection. While the infection was likely to have been transmitted by an asymptomatic vector, it has been standard practice for all animal care and essential staff to conceal masks indoors in all public and non-public spaces. Health status and vaccination of employees is confidential medical information.

The USDA has authorized the use of a SARS-COV-2 vaccine made specifically for animals by Zoetis. The first round of vaccine dispensing will be given to select animals identified as a vulnerable species at both the zoo and the Virginia Institute of Conservation Biology when it becomes available in the coming months.

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Updated September 23, 2021: An earlier version of this news release misrepresented the Zoetis vaccine was for “zoo animals.” Zoetis vaccine is for animals.

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