Tiger Positive for Coronavirus at Bronx Zoo Did Not Use a Human Test, Staff Clarifies

Kate Hogan

A tiger at New York City’s Bronx Zoo who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) over the weekend did not use a human test, the zoo’s veterinarian said via Twitter on Monday.

“The COVID-19 testing that was performed on our Malayan tiger Nadia was performed in a veterinary school laboratory and is not the same test as is used for people,” Bronx Zoo chief veterinarian Dr. Paul Calle said through the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Twitter feed.

He added, “You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations.”

The tweets came in response to outrage about human test availability on Twitter Sunday night after news of the tiger’s diagnosis broke.

Nadia, a 4-year-old female Malayan tiger, was tested by the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory after she — along with six other cats at the zoo, three tigers and three lions — developed a dry cough, the WCS said in a news release. They are all expected to recover. According to the Associated Press, only Nadia was tested because she was already sedated for an exam.

Per CNN, Nadia is the first known animal to be infected in the United States, as well as the first tiger to test positive.

Wildlife Conservation Society

“I couldn’t believe it,” zoo director Jim Breheny told the AP on Sunday, adding that there was one silver lining in the animal’s diagnosis: “Any kind of knowledge that we get on how it’s transmitted, how different species react to it, that knowledge somehow is going to provide a greater base resource for people.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there still aren’t confirmed cases of COVID-19 in American pets or livestock. The organization is not recommending routine testing of animals, the AP said, though recommends humans with coronavirus symptoms should limit their contact with animals and practice proper hand-washing before and after handling livestock or pets.

The AP reported that the zoo worker who infected Nadia “is doing OK.”“We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution and will ensure any knowledge we gain about COVID-19 will contribute to the world’s continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus,” zoo staff wrote in Sunday night’s statement, adding that the cats were infected by a zoo employee who was “asymptomatically infected with the virus” while caring for them.

“Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats,” WCS said.

No other animals in the zoo are showing symptoms of the virus, according to WCS. The zoo has been closed to the public since March 16.

“Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers,” WCS said. “It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries.”

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