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Bronx Zoo tiger tests positive for coronavirus, has a dry cough

Published Apr 6th, 2020 3:49PM EDT
tiger coronavirus
Image: Pius Koller/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

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  • A tiger in New York City tested positive for novel coronavirus after coming into contact with a zoo staff member who had COVID-19. 
  • The tiger, a four-year-old female, presented symptoms typical of COVID-19, including a dry cough. 
  • The big cat is expected to recover, and it’s not believed that animals can spread the virus to humans. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City is the latest “celebrity” to come down with an infection of the novel coronavirus. The big cat’s plight was revealed in an announcement by the zoo and further expanded on by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The tiger, a four-year-old female named Nadia, was the first of the zoo’s big cats to exhibit symptoms typically associated with COVID-19. The primary symptom was a dry cough, and subsequent testing confirmed that the feline did indeed have a coronavirus infection. Unfortunately, she’s probably not the only cat at the zoo with the virus.

Officials note that a total of seven big cats at the Bronx Zoo have similar symptoms. You might wonder how animals in an enclosed, isolated environment could catch the virus since the zoo itself is closed and contact with humans is extremely limited. It appears that a zoo staff member had a coronavirus infection of their own, perhaps even asymptomatic, and was shedding that virus while working at the park.

“This is the first case of its kind,” the USDA said in a statement. “We are still learning about this new coronavirus and how it spreads. This case suggests that a zoo employee spread the virus to the tiger. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19. State animal and public health officials will continue to work closely with USDA and CDC to monitor this situation and will conduct additional testing if it is warranted.”

This bizarre situation begs the question of whether or not animals can give coronavirus to humans in the same way that we appear to be able to infect them. At the moment, the USDA says there’s no reason to believe that this is the case, and there’s “no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets or livestock, can spread COVID-19 infection to people.”

That’s somewhat comforting, but with how rapidly the entire coronavirus saga has changed over the course of just a few months, saying that there’s no evidence to support something isn’t the same as conclusive evidence to the contrary. Put simply, we don’t know exactly what kinds of jumps this virus is capable of making, and we should probably be as cautious as possible moving forward.

As for the tigers at the zoo, they are expected to recover from their infections but are being continuously monitored by zoo staff.