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Three snow leopards die of COVID-19 at Nebraska zoo

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Three snow leopards at a zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska, have died of complications from COVID-19, the Lincoln Children's Zoo announced Friday evening. Two Sumatran tigers who contracted the virus at the zoo have "seemingly" recovered, the zoo also announced.

"Our leopards, Ranney, Everest, and Makaly, were beloved by our entire community inside and outside of the zoo," the zoo said in a statement. "This loss is truly heartbreaking, and we are all grieving together."

The zoo first reported that the tigers and snow leopards tested positive for COVID-19 on October 13. After zoo staff noticed the animals had symptoms consistent with the disease, testing was done using fecal samples and nasal swabs. The big cats were treated with steroids and antibiotics to prevent secondary infection. No other animals at the zoo were showing signs of infection at the time and all of the infected animals had been anticipated to make a full recovery, the zoo reported. 

The source of the infection was not identified at the time.

"Given the substantial distance between the animals and visitors, the public is not, nor has been, at any risk," the zoo said at the time. 

Lincoln Children's Zoo said that it remains open to the public and that it "continues to take every precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to humans and animals."

"We will continue following the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) and CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of our animals, staff, and community," it stated. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low, but the virus can spread from people to animals in certain situations. 

A vaccine developed by Zoetis that is specially made for animals has been authorized for experimental use on a case-by-case basis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The company has donated more than 11,000 doses of the vaccine to dozens of zoos, conservatories, sanctuaries and other organizations across 27 states. 

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