ST. LOUIS (AP) — Eight big cats at the St. Louis Zoo have recently tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the Zoo said Thursday.
The cats are two African lions, two snow leopards, two jaguars, an Amur tiger and a puma. They are being closely monitored and cared for, and all are expected to make a full recovery.
No other animals at the Zoo are showing any signs of infection.
The Zoo hasn’t identified the source of the infection, despite a thorough investigation and a risk assessment of relevant staff. All Zoo staff are required to be vaccinated, and they must wear masks indoors as well as when around potentially at-risk animals. The Zoo also follows COVID-19 protocols on personal protective equipment (PPE), employee self-screening and health management.
Most of the big cats showed no signs of illness, although a few had decreased appetite and less activity at times. Some had eye and nasal discharge and a cough for a couple of days.
All of the cats at Big Cat Country received a two-dose series of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine specific for animals between Sept. 30 and Oct. 26, but they were probably exposed prior to the second dose.
“As in humans, we would expect that full protection against this virus would not be developed until a few weeks after the second injection in a series,” said Sathya Chinnadurai, the Zoo’s director of animal health.
“The vaccine, even partial immunization, likely helped our cats be able to mount a stronger immune response, and show fewer signs of illness for a shorter period of time than they would have if not previously vaccinated,” Chinnadurai said.
Because the animals at Big Cat Country are vaccinated and in open spaces with significant distance between them and visitors, people can feel safe when visiting the Zoo.
“The health, well-being and safety of Zoo staff, animals and guests remains our No. 1 priority,” said Luis Padilla, vice president of animal collections at the Zoo. “Now more than ever, we recognize that animal health, human health and the health of our environment are interdependent on each other.”