Up to eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are believed to have received COVID-19 from a human dog handler after one of the animals tested positive. This was the first known transmission of the virus to monkeys, zoo officials said on Monday.
Three of the critically endangered western lowland gorillas in the sprawling wildlife park have shown symptoms of the respiratory virus such as coughing, although none appear seriously ill and are all expected to make a full recovery, the zoo said online.
A laboratory analysis of a stool sample taken last Wednesday from one of two gorillas who originally had a cough revealed the presence of the virus two days later, said zoo spokesman Andrew James.
The positive results were confirmed on Monday by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the zoo said on its website.
While the test was only final for a single animal, it is believed that all eight gorillas were exposed, and possibly infected, to SAR-CoV-2, the scientific name of the virus that causes COVID-19, by zoo officials.
“Gorilla troops live together in both our zoological natural habitat and the wild, and as with human families, we must assume that all members of the family group have been exposed,” the zoo said in a fact sheet.
James added that collecting mucus or saliva samples from individual gorillas on the human model is considered too risky for the monkeys.
The gorillas are believed to have gotten the virus from an asymptomatic worker despite following strict biosecurity protocols that meet guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the zoo said.
Strict infection control measures were in place there long before the pandemic, as monkeys – as humans’ closely related biological relatives – are particularly vulnerable to human-borne pathogens and have no natural immunity to them, James said.
Zoo officials said they did not know how the coronavirus will ultimately affect gorillas or what additional symptoms may appear.
“Aside from traffic jams and coughs, the gorillas are fine,” said Lisa Peterson, executive director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, in the statement. “The troops stay together in quarantine, eating and drinking. We hope to make a full recovery.”
The gorilla troop at the 1,800-acre San Diego Safari Park consists of five women and three men, including an older “silverback” named Winston, who is about 45 years old, James said. At least eight other gorillas on display at the nearby San Diego Zoo were unaffected. Both facilities have been closed to the public since early December due to the pandemic.
The coronavirus has also been found in a number of other wildlife species in captivity, including several lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York and four lions at the Barcelona Zoo in Spain.
But the San Diego gorillas are the first known case of infection to be confirmed in monkeys, James said.
Gorillas belong to the family of primates known as great apes or hominids, which also includes chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and humans.
The virus has also appeared in a number of domestic dogs and cats. Last month, the USDA announced it had confirmed the first known case of coronavirus in a wild animal, a mink, after an outbreak among mink farms that killed 15,000 animals.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)