A Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and three other tigers and three African lions at the zoo have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. The zoo announced the results on Sunday after the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa confirmed the results.
It is the first known case of wildlife contracting the disease from humans. Paul Calle, chief veterinarian for the Bronx Zoo, told National Geographic he believes a zookeeper was likely asymptomatic and spread the virus. The zoo has been closed to visitors since March 16.
John Goodrich, chief scientist and tiger program director at Panthera, told National Geographic he worries about the implications for wild populations. “Big cats like tigers and lions are already facing a litany of threats to their survival in the wild. If COVID-19 jumps to wild big cat populations and becomes a significant cause of mortality, the virus could develop into a very serious concern for the future of these species.”
Domestic animals have previously tested positive, the magazine reports, including dogs in Hong Kong and a cat in Belgium.
“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any animals, including pets, livestock, or wildlife, can spread COVID-19 infection to people,” the USDA said in a statement.
The USDA recommends that, out of an abundance of caution, anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with pets and other animals during their illness. If a sick person must care for a pet or be around animals, they should wash their hands before and after the interaction.
Read more from National Geographic.