A tiger at New York's Bronx Zoo has tested positive for COVID-19, the institution said Sunday, and is believed to have contracted the virus from a caretaker who was asymptomatic at the time.
The four-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia along with her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions all developed dry coughs and are expected to fully recover, the Wildlife Conservation Society that runs the city's zoos said in a statement.
‘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,’ the statement sent to AFP said.
‘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,’ it 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.’
All four of the zoos and the aquarium in New York -- wheere the virus death toll has topped 4,000 -- have been closed since March 16.
The zoo emphasized that there is ‘no evidence that animals play a role in the transmission of COVID-19 to people other than the initial event in the Wuhan market, and no evidence that any person has been infected with COVID-19 in the US by animals, including by pet dogs or cats.’
Chinese disease control officials have previously identified wild animals sold in a Wuhan market as the source of the coronavirus pandemic that has infected well over one million people worldwide.
According to the US Department of Agriculture website there had ‘not been reports of pets or other animals’ in the United States falling ill with coronavirus prior to news of tiger Nadia.
‘It is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus,’ the department's website says.
In late March a pet cat was discovered infected with the novel coronavirus in Belgium, following similar cases in Hong Kong where two dogs tested positive.
All of those animals are believed to have contracted the virus from the people they live with.
The Bronx zoo said preventative measures were in place for caretakers as well as all cats in the city's zoos.
Sarah Caddy, veterinarian and clinical research fellow at the University of Cambridge, said that since domestic cats had been shown to be potentially susceptible to the virus, the tiger becoming infected was ‘not wholly unexpected’.
‘However, it is surprising that the tiger has become infected with what must have been a fairly low dose of virus -- we can assume the tiger did not have continual close contact with the asymptomatic zoo keeper,’ she said.
In terms of domestic cats, Caddy added that there was only one suspected case where an owner spread the virus to their pet.
‘The bottom line is that there is no evidence that any cat, large or small, can transmit (the) virus back to humans,’ she said.
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