The lions and tigers at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., have tested positive for COVID-19.
Six African lions, a Sumatran tiger and two Amur tigers all received “presumptive positive” results for the coronavirus, the zoo announced in a Friday press release. That means the animals had positive laboratory test results, but they need to be confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the big cats are also displaying symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, decreased appetite and lethargy, so zookeepers believe they are most likely infected.
“Because the test results are presumptive positive and we are observing symptoms in the animals, we are treating all animals as positive,” zoo spokesperson Pamela Baker-Masson told DCist.
It’s unclear how the lions and tigers got infected. The cats remain under “close observation” and are still able to access their outdoor areas, the zoo said. It noted in the press release that the animals pose no risk to the public because of the physical distance between them and visitors. (There’s also no evidence at this point that felines can pass COVID-19 to humans.)
Testing was conducted via fecal samples, so no nose swabbing of the big cats was required.
The lions and tigers are the latest in a long line of zoo residents to contract the coronavirus since the pandemic began. Other animals have included tigers and lions in New York City (all of them fully recovered), snow leopards in Kentucky and San Diego, and otters in Georgia, among others. And just last week, 19 gorillas at Georgia’s Zoo Atlanta tested positive and exhibited symptoms such as coughing and runny noses.
Some zoos have begun inoculating animals using a vaccine called Zoetis, which was specially developed for animals. In March, the San Diego Zoo vaccinated several orangutans and bonobos. California’s Oakland Zoo began vaccinating big cats, bears, ferrets and primates in July.
A lot of zoo animals are already trained to accept vaccines, since they need to get vaccinated against other diseases like rabies. That training can involve rewarding them after they get a shot. At the Oakland Zoo, for example, mountain lions were rewarded with goat milk, a chimpanzee received M&Ms and bears got to enjoy ice cream off a spoon, PBS reported.