Gorillas Test Positive for COVID-19
Zookeepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California noticed two of their gorillas were coughing. The gorillas were part of a group of eight western lowland gorillas—a critically endangered species native to the densest rainforests of Congo, Cameroon, and Guinea. Of the eight, three tested positive for COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed.
According to the USDA, while there have been many cases of animals getting infected with COVID-19 from their human owners or caretakers, the risk of animals spreading the virus further is still low.
“There is currently no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to people. Based on the information available, the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low,” the USDA said in a statement.
People with COVID-19 Should Avoid Contact with Pets and Animals
As a close relative of humans, gorillas are likely to share some diseases that also affect people. In fact, it is believed the gorillas caught the virus from an asymptomatic zoo worker.
Humans passing COVID-19 to animals is an established possibility, which is why many zoos around the world implement strict protocols to ensure their staff and the animals in their care are not exposed to the virus.
According to the USDA, people who have COVID-19 should avoid contact not only with other people, but also with their pets and other animals.
A Six-Week-Old Western Lowland Gorilla
“People with COVID-19 can spread the virus to some animals during close contact. It is important for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection,” the USDA said.
In an interview with National Geographic, San Diego Zoo Safari Park director Lisa Peterson says they have decided to keep all eight gorillas in a single enclosure and monitor them, even if only three gorillas tested positive for the virus.
“Some may have it and others may not,” Peterson says. “They live in a troop with a single silverback. He’s the leader. He guides them throughout the day. They look to him. It’s really best for them that they’re allowed to continue as they are,” Peterson said.
An Adult Western Lowland Gorilla
Gorillas are not the first animals to be infected with COVID-19. The virus was previously detected in domestic cats, dogs, lions, cheetahs, and tigers, but none of them exhibited signs of animal-to-human transmission.
In May 2020, a fur factory that harvests mink fur in the Netherlands reported a case of an infected mink transmitting COVID-19 to a factory worker. It was the first case of animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19.