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2 Gorillas In California Contract The Coronavirus

Two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. A zoo statement says the apes have mild symptoms, but are doing well.
Christina Simmons
San Diego Zoo Global Archives
Two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. A zoo statement says the apes have mild symptoms, but are doing well.

Gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park developed a cough last week. The apes were tested and found to have the virus. It may have come through a human staffer, despite precautions.

Members of a troop of gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, Calif., have tested positive for COVID-19. Last Wednesday, two of the gorillas developed a cough and showed other mild symptoms, a news release said. Park staff tested the animals. A fecal examination detected the virus last Friday and the results were confirmed by the Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Laboratories Monday.

"Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,' said executive director Lisa Peterson. "The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking. We are hopeful for a full recovery."

Park staff have been taking measures since the onset of the pandemic last year to avoid contamination. Staff wear masks and wash their hands frequently. They even have dedicated uniforms that must be worn while working around wildlife. Despite these precautions, park officials suspect the gorillas contracted the virus from an asymptomatic worker.

San Diego Zoo Global, which owns the park, said the infected gorillas pose no threat to the public. The park is currently closed to visitors and even under normal operating circumstances there is no logical reason guests would come into contact with a 300-pound gorilla.

This is the first known natural transmission of the coronavirus to great apes, the news release said. But other animals were infected with the virus last year. A four-year-old Malayan tiger in New York was the first animal to test positive for COVID-19 last spring. And in Denmark, the government terminated an estimated 17 million minks in November after discovering they could carry the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also reported that cats and dogs can also become infected. Studies to understand how the coronavirus affects different animals are ongoing and it is unclear whether some animals can spread the infection to people, the CDC said.

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Dustin Jones
Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.