Thirteen gorillas have tested positive for COVID-19 at Zoo Atlanta after contracting the virus from one of the zookeepers, zoo officials said.
According to The Guardian, staff were alerted when seven of the 20 western lowland gorillas began showing symptoms such as a runny nose, mild coughing and a loss of appetite.
Officials at the zoo took faecal and nasal samples which were then tested at the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, reports Business Insider.
“The teams are collecting samples for testing for the zoo’s entire gorilla population, which includes 20 members living in four troops, and will regularly test the gorillas regardless of the presence of symptoms”, the zoo said in a statement.
Senior director of Animal Health at Zoo Atlanta, Dr. Sam Rivera, believes that the virus was first transmitted to the gorilla population by a vaccinated asymptomatic employee who cares for them. Zoo employees are not required to get the vaccine, but a high percentage of workers have been vaccinated.
“The infections occurred in an area of the facility with stringent COVID-19 safety precautions, but said it had instituted additional preventive measures, including such as N95 masks, Tyvek suits, modified cleaning protocols, and increased ventilation in the gorilla building,” Zoo Atlanta said.
Once the gorillas have recovered from the disease, the zoo will vaccinate them using the Zoetis vaccine, a COVID-19 vaccine that has been developed for the use in animals. Zoo Atlanta has already vaccinated some of its species including the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, African lions and its clouded leopard, Business Insider
The gorillas who are at high risk of complications are currently being treated with monoclonal antibodies, including 6-year-old Ozzie, who is showing very mild symptoms of the virus.
“The teams are very closely monitoring the affected gorillas and are hopeful they will make a complete recovery. They are receiving the best possible care, and we are prepared to provide additional supportive care should it become necessary,” Rivera adds.