Hippos Imani and Hermien test positive for COVID-19 at Belgian zoo

Two hippos in water, one looks into camera
Hippos who tested positive for COVID-19 at Antwerp Zoo, photo: Antwerp Zoo Society/Jonas Verhulst/via Reuters

Antwerp Zoo in Belgium said two hippos tested positive for COVID-19, which could be the first reported case of this disease in the species.

The 14-year-old hippo Imani and her mother, the 41-year-old Hermien, both tested positive and have been put into quarantine as a precaution.

Last year, Antwerp Zoo tested its animals and found no coronavirus cases, but veterinarian Francis Vercammen checked the hippos as cases rose again this winter.

“This time, they [the hippos] were expelling snot, which I had tested as a precaution to check for bacteria,” he said, explaining how he came to send samples to Belgium’s national veterinary lab.

“In view of current events, I took the additional decision to test the samples for COVID-19, which gave this surprising result,” he said.

“As far as I know, this is the first known infection in this species. Worldwide, this virus has mainly been reported in great apes and felines,” Vercammen added.

The coronavirus could have jumped humans to the animals, but the zoo said no zookeepers had recently shown symptoms of COVID-19 or tested positive for it.

Antwerp Zoo is currently investigating the cause of the contagion.

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