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Gorillas at Zoo Atlanta test positive for COVID-19

A number of western lowland gorillas at Zoo Atlanta have tested positive for the coronavirus, the zoo announced on its website.

"Recently, Gorilla Care Team members observed coughing, nasal discharge, and minor changes in appetite in several members of the gorilla population," the zoo wrote Friday. "Upon the onset of these signs, the Animal Care and Veterinary Teams immediately pursued testing for SARS-CoV-2. Fecal samples and nasal and oral swab samples were sent to the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Georgia, where they tested presumptively positive. Zoo Atlanta is waiting to receive the results of the confirmatory tests on samples sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa."

It was not clear how many gorillas tested positive.

The gorillas at risk of experiencing COVID-19 complications are receiving monoclonal antibodies, the zoo said.

"The teams are collecting samples for testing for the Zoo's entire gorilla population, which includes 20 members living in four troops, and will regularly test the gorillas regardless of the presence of symptoms," the zoo said.

The zoo believes the gorillas were infected by an employee who was fully vaccinated and wearing Personal Protective Equipment while caring for the animals, but later tested positive for COVID-19.

Are gorillas threatened by coronavirus? 03:45

"While humans are known to be able to transmit the virus to animals such as gorillas, and these cases have occurred at other zoos, there is currently no data to suggest that zoo animals can transmit the virus to humans," it said. "Regardless, Zoo Atlanta visitors do not pose a transmission threat to the gorillas or vice versa given the distance between the areas used by guests and the animals' habitats."

"The teams are very closely monitoring the affected gorillas and are hopeful they will make a complete recovery. They are receiving the best possible care, and we are prepared to provide additional supportive care should it become necessary," Sam Rivera, DVM, senior director of animal health, said. "We are very concerned that these infections occurred, especially given that our safety protocols when working with great apes and other susceptible animal species are, and throughout the pandemic have been, extremely rigorous."

According to its website, the zoo was waiting to receive a COVID-19 vaccine made specifically for animals and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Georgia's State Veterinarian called Zoetis when the gorillas tested positive. Since then, the doses arrived at the zoo, and staff will begin administering them to "Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, African lions, and clouded leopard. As the gorillas recover, they will also receive the vaccine."

In early January, the San Diego Zoo announced two of their gorillas had tested positive for COVID-19. Other zoos have begun vaccinating some of their animals, including the Oakland and Denver zoos.

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