Endangered gorillas may have caught coronavirus from human zoo handlers

Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 10:29 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 10:29 am

A number of gorillas at the San Diego Zoo are believed to be infected with coronavirus, in what is believed to be the first cases among captive primates.

Two gorillas have tested positive for the virus after falling ill, with a third gorilla appearing to be symptomatic as well, California governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday (11 Jan).

‘The gorillas are quarantining together’

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In a statement released on the zoo’s website, the park’s executive director Lisa Peterson said that eight gorillas that live together at the park are believed to have contracted the virus, and that several have been coughing.

On 6 January, two of the gorillas in the troop were found coughing, and showing other mild symptoms. Given the current situation, the zoo decided to test the animals for Covid-19.

“San Diego Zoo Global and the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System detected the presence of the virus in the gorilla troop through a positive fecal test on Friday, January 8,” the zoo explained.

Peterson said that veterinarians are closely monitoring the gorillas, and for now, they are being given vitamins, fluid and food, but no specific treatment to combat the virus.

Peterson said: “Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well.

“The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking. We are hopeful for a full recovery.”

‘Infected by an asymptomatic member of staff’

The virus is believed to have come from an asymptomatic staff member who later tested positive, despite there being extensive Covid-19 measures in place to protect the animals.

Peterson said: “For almost one year our team members have been working tirelessly, with the utmost determination to protect each other and the wildlife in our care from this highly contagious virus.

“The safety of our staff and the wildlife in our care remains our number one priority.”

While the virus has been found in other wildlife, such as mink and tigers, this is the first known transmission of Covid-19 to great apes, and it is unclear whether they will have any serious reactions.

Wildlife experts have expressed some concern regarding the gorillas, as they are an endangered species that share 98.4 per cent of their DNA with humans, and are inherently social animals.