A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City has tested positive for the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It is the first known case of a human infecting a zoo animal and making it sick in the United States, the zoo’s chief veterinarian said on Sunday.
Nadia, the 4-year-old Malayan tiger that tested positive, was screened for the COVID-19 disease after developing a dry cough.
Her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions also had a dry cough but weren’t tested, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the zoo, said in a statement. All of the cats are expected to recover, it said.
The zoo decided to test only Nadia because she was the sickest and had started to lose her appetite. They also did not want to subject all the cats to anesthesia, Paul Calle, chief veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo, told Reuters.
Officials believe this is a unique case because Nadia became sick after exposure to a zoo employee who was infected but showed no symptoms. Calle said they did not know which employee infected the tiger.
Nadia began showing signs of illness on March 27. She underwent X-rays, an ultrasound and blood tests to try to figure out why she was in pain. They decided to test for COVID-19 given the rise in cases in New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.
“This is the first time that any of us know of anywhere in the world that a person infected the animal and the animal got sick,” Calle said, adding that they planned to share the findings with other zoos and institutions. “Hopefully, we will all have a better understanding as a result.”