A rare snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo in California which hadn’t been vaccinated has tested positive for Covid-19 – forcing the zoo to temporarily shut down its leopard habitat to visitors.
Wildlife care specialists at the zoo noticed that Ramil, a nine-year-old male, had a cough and a runny nose on Thursday, officials said.
Fecal samples from him tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – and were confirmed by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System.
The zoo said that it is closely monitoring Ramil’s health. He appears to be doing well and is not showing other symptoms.
But as he shares his habitat with a female snow leopard and two Amur leopards, veterinarians assume the other leopards have been exposed, so they are also being quarantined.
“While we await the results of tests to determine if Ramil is positive for the virus, we can assure you the snow leopards and the Amur leopards are receiving excellent care,” Dwight Scott, executive director of the San Diego Zoo, said in a statement.
It’s not known how Ramil acquired the infection. The zoo says it provides N95 masks to all employees, and those who are not vaccinated are required to wear masks and practice health and safety protocols at all times. There is no vaccine mandate for employees.
In January, a troop of gorillas at the neighbouring Safari Park contracted SARS-CoV-2 from an asymptomatic wildlife care specialist. The troop, which has since recovered, became the first known example of the virus infecting apes, according to the AP.
The case prompted the zoo to request an experimental Covid-19 vaccine for animals which has since been supplied by Zoetis, an animal health company that was once part of Pfizer.
Zoo vets are currently administering doses as quickly and safely as possible to the animals most at risk of contracting the virus, mostly big cats including leopards, lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, mountain lions, and apes.
According to the World Health Organization, wild animals highly susceptible to coronavirus are tigers, lions, snow leopards, pumas, fruit bats, gorillas, white-tailed deer, marmosets, and macaques.
The Amur leopard is a leopard subspecies native to the Primorye region of southeastern Russia and northern China. It is listed as critically endangered and in 2007, fewer than 30 wild Amur leopards were estimated to survive.