Big Cats at Saint Louis Zoo Test Positive For Virus That Causes COVID-19

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The big cats are expected to make a full recovery. - FLICKR / CHRISTINA RUTZ

Two African lions, two jaguars, two snow leopards, a puma and an Amur tiger at the Saint Louis Zoo have all tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The animals are expected to make a full recovery, thanks to receiving their COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year and “ongoing care,” a press release from the zoo says.

The animals received their first dose of the animal COVID-19 vaccine on September 30 and their second dose on October 26, but were likely infected with the virus before their second dose. Sathya Chinnadurai, director of animal health at the zoo, said in a press release that, like humans, the zoo “would expect that full protection against this virus would not be developed until a few weeks after the second injection in a series.”



“The vaccine, even partial immunization, likely helped our cats be able to mount a stronger immune response,” Chinnadurai says, “and show fewer signs of illness for a shorter period of time than they would have if not previously vaccinated.”

Big Cat Country is the only area of the zoo affected — no other animals have shown signs of infection. Most of the cats didn’t display any symptoms, while some had shown either a decrease in activity or appetite, and others had “respiratory signs,” such as discharge from their nose and eyes. The zoo hasn't been able to identify where the infection came from.



Fifty of the zoo's animals have been fully vaccinated, with another 42 having received at least one dose of the vaccine; the zoo had announced in September they were in the process of vaccinating nearly 100 animals.

The zoo reassured visitors that it’s still safe to visit; the risk of transmission between vaccinated humans in a socially distanced outdoor setting is low, and the big cats are vaccinated and only able to be seen outdoors at a distance. Zoo staff is also required to be vaccinated, as well as follow strict COVID-19 safety protocols with the animals.

Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at jenna@riverfronttimes.com
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