Tiger Tests Positive for COVID-19. What does that mean for our pets and wildlife?

Tiger Tests Positive for COVID-19. What does that mean for our pets and wildlife?
Security stands at the entrance for the Bronx Zoo where ambulances are parked Friday, April 3, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (Source: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II/AP)

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Multiple health organizations had stated that animals were not at risk for catching COVID-19, but one recent case is challenging those claims that it only affects humans. A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York has become the first animal to be identified as having the virus in the nation.

"There were no sick people that worked with the lions or the tigers, but there was some person who either, you know, didn't know they were infected or hadn't become sick at the time they worked with the tigers,” Dr. Paul Calle, Chief Veterinarian For The Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo, said.

The test was done after the tiger had a dry cough and showed signs of a respiratory infection. Since then, several tigers and lions have also shown signs of illness.

“There’s a lot of mammal viruses that are passed on from species to species out in the wild, but generally hey have their own strain. However, like any virus, it mutates. It’s constantly changing. It would not surprise me. This virus, even though it’s fairly new, it’s still had the time to evolve,” Pamela Defouw, the Director of The Wildlife Center Of Southwest Florida, explained.

Scientists are now saying that this is an indication that humans can now give COVID-19 to animals, and that they can pass it to each other. However, so far, it’s only been seen in cats.

“We know that pets have almost identical virus receptors on their cells that lets the virus in that people do,” Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, from the NYC Animal Medical Center, said.

We spoke to The Wildlife Center of Southwest Florida today who tells us they have not had any animal infected with the Coronavirus so far, but that they do see different types of viruses on a daily basis here. So while this pandemic is going on, it’s even more important to keep your distance from animals and to call them for assistance.

"We’re utilizing all our proper protection equipment onsite with all of our patients on a daily basis anyways, so this is something that we would want to look into anyways to see what’s going on,” said DeFouw.

The Wildlife Center has made safety changes in terms of having less volunteers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but they are still working to continue saving animals on the Suncoast.

“It’s a busy time for us, as far as it being baby season for birds and mammals. We’re definitely here to respond. We still want to get those animals in and get them treated and back out into the wild. We want the community to know that we are still out here for them,” expressed DeFouw.

As for our own pets, even though the virus has only been seen to affect cats, experts say to practice good hygiene with all animals and to try and social distance from them for the time-being, as well.

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