Gorillas at San Diego Zoo test positive for COVID-19

Three gorillas at San Diego Zoo Safari Park, photo: Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global/Reuters
Three gorillas at San Diego Zoo Safari Park, photo: Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global/Reuters

Gorillas at San Diego Zoo Safari Park have contracted COVID-19 from a human handler. This is the first known transmission of the virus to apes, zoo officials said on Monday.

Two of the critically endangered western lowland gorillas began coughing last week, and fecal samples from one of them detected the virus.

While the test was definitive for only one animal, all eight gorillas in the troop are presumed by zoo officials to have been exposed to and possibly infected with the coronavirus.

“Gorilla troops live together, and we have to assume, as we do with human families, that all members of the family group have been exposed,” the zoo said.

Silverback Winston leads the gorilla troop at the zoo. He watches over female gorillas Kamilah en Kokoma, Kokoma’s son Monroe and daughter Leslie. Other members of Winton’s troop are Imani and Frank, and Imani’s daughter Joanne.

The zoo thinks the gorillas got the infection from an asymptomatic staff member. Zoo officials said they do not know how the coronavirus will ultimately affect gorillas or what additional symptoms may occur.

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

The coronavirus has also been found in other wild animal species in captivity, including several lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York and the four lions Zala, Nima, Run Run, Kiumbe at the Barcelona Zoo in Spain.

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