LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After a tiger tested positive for coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo in New York, Louisville Zoo staff is taking extra safety precautions around their big cats to ensure the animals don’t catch the virus. According to the Bronx zoo, the 4-year-old female tiger at the caught COVID-19 from an asymptomatic employee. Six other tigers and lions are also sick.
In Louisville, Senior Staff Veterinarian Zoli Gyimesi says the cats are all symptom-free. Employees that care for the big cats are working in shifts that don’t overlap and are subject to temperature checks daily. They are also wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) like masks and gloves.
“I think some of the animals have to get used to staff wearing the masks, right? Because they’re used to seeing faces and reading facial expressions and you put that mask on and you lose some of that. They’re just seeing your eyes and body language. But they’ll get used to it,” says Gyimesi.
The senior veterinarian says the New York tiger’s diagnosis didn’t come as a total shock.
“I guess with cats it might be a little bit new, but certainly with our nonhuman primates — gorillas, orangutans, our monkeys — they’re so close to humans, that things we can carry from chickenpox to measles to the common cold, we’ve known forever that that can affect them as well. So, we’re used to working smart. Not working with them if we’re sick. Wearing appropriate PPE — whether it’s gloves, masks, or whatever — if we have to be near those animals,” he says.
Since coronavirus can be transmitted to animals, Gyimesi recommends that sick pet owners have another person care for their pets until the owner recovers. If that’s not possible, he advises pet owners to wear PPE around their pets. The federal government says there’s no evidence animals can spread the virus to people at this time.