Snow leopards test positive for virus

 

Three snow leopards have tested positive for the coronavirus at a zoo in the United States.

Louisville Zoo in Kentucky first confirmed the infection in its five-year-old female big cat.

She is suspected to have acquired the infection from an asymptomatic staff member, the zoo said in a statement.

On Friday, it confirmed two male snow leopards were also infected.

A snow leopard at the Kentucky zoo. Picture: Louisville Zoo
A snow leopard at the Kentucky zoo. Picture: Louisville Zoo

In an update posted to Facebook, zoo director John Walczak said: "Since the start of the pandemic, our staff have been wearing protective equipment when around our animals and following all the safety guidelines from our public health officials.

"However, recently our zookeepers noticed that our snow leopards Kimti, Meru and Neecee were showing minor respiratory symptoms including an occasional dry cough and wheezing.

"We acted immediately and had samples sent to veterinary diagnostic experts for testing."

Faecal samples from all three snow leopards were sent to the University of Illinois veterinary medicine college on December 4.

"Due to mild symptoms, the Zoo elected to test faeces rather than anaesthetise the cats for more invasive diagnostics," the zoo's statement reads.

Presumptive positive samples from polymerase chain reaction testing were then forwarded to the federal animal diagnostic lab in Iowa for confirmation.

Mr Walczak said the health of all three snow leopards is being monitored after their positive test results but they have "very mild" symptoms and are expected to recover.

No other animals at the zoo are showing symptoms, he said.

One female and two male snow leopards tested positive for the coronavirus. Picture: Louisville Zoo
One female and two male snow leopards tested positive for the coronavirus. Picture: Louisville Zoo

SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the coronavirus which causes COVID-19 disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a "small number of pet cats and dogs have been reported to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 in several countries" including the US.

"Most of these pets became sick after contact with people with COVID-19," the CDC said.

Other large cats in captivity have tested positive for the virus including a number of lions and tigers at New York's Bronx Zoo in April and a Malayan tiger at Zoo Knoxville in October.

The CDC suspects they became sick after being exposed to zoo employees with COVID-19.

"This is the first confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2 infection in a snow leopard," Louisville Zoo said.

"This discovery contributes to the growing knowledge about this novel coronavirus and transmission between people and animals."

The snow leopards are not being exhibited while they recover.

Originally published as Snow leopards test positive for virus


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