Zoo animals across the country, and in Sioux Falls, are getting COVID-19. A vaccine is being distributed. – Argus Leader

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Gorillas test positive for COVID-19 at Atlanta zoo

Gorillas, tigers and lions are among the animals at the Atlanta zoo expected to receive a COVID-19 vaccine developed for animals.

Staff Video, USA TODAY

The Great Plains Zoo reported Thursday that a tiger tested positive for COVID-19. And on Thursday, a snow leopard at the zoo died after having respiratory issues. 

Tests are being conducted to determine if the animal had COVID-19.

Reports of zoo animals contracting COVID-19 across the U.S. aren’t new, and a vaccine is being distributed to help fight the virus.

Zoetis, an agricultural pharmaceutical company, developed a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for animals. The company announced in a press release in July that it was donating 11,000 doses of the experimental COVID-19 vaccine to help protect the health and well-being of more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos.

More: Great Plains Zoo snow leopard dies after ‘respiratory function’ decline, unknown if COVID-19 related

How many zoo animals have contracted COVID-19?

Several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive for the coronavirus in January in what was believed to be the first known cases among such primates in the United States and possibly the world, according to USA TODAY.

During the January outbreak at the San Diego Zoo, Zoetis was asked to provide its experimental vaccines to the zoo for use on the apes, according to a release by Zoetis.

Since January’s outbreak at the zoo in San Diego, there was an outbreak among gorillas at an Atlanta zoo and an outbreak among big cats at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo in D.C.

The most recent suspected COVID-19 outbreak at a zoo is at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls after the zoo announced that one of its Amur tigers had tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. Other big cats were taken off display and tested after showing symptoms.

A snow leopard died on Thursday due to a decline of “respiratory function,” according to a press release by the Great Plains Zoo.

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Were the animals vaccinated?

The Great Plains Zoo stated that its animals have not been vaccinated, but the most susceptible ones would be vaccinated once doses were received. It is unclear when the zoo would receive vaccine doses.

After the outbreak at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo in mid-September, officials said they’d be vaccinating animals during the “following months,” according to USA TODAY.

Zoo Atlanta said in a statement that it had already been authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Georgia’s state veterinarian to receive the Zoetis vaccine. As the gorillas recover, they would also receive the vaccine.

When was the vaccine approved?

The vaccine has been authorized for experimental use on a case-by-case basis by the United States Department of Agriculture and the appropriate state veterinarians, according to a release by Zoetis. 

The Oakland Zoo already administered Zoetis vaccines to animals over the summer, according to a USA TODAY article. Tigers, bears, mountain lions and ferrets all got the vaccine. 

How long has the vaccine been in development?

Zoetis said in a release its vaccine first began development after a dog in Hong Kong got COVID-19 in 2020. In eight months they completed the initial safety studies, which were presented at the World One Health Congress in 2020. The vaccine was developed with domestic animals in mind but has since become useful for zoo animals.

“While thankfully a COVID-19 vaccine is not needed in pets or livestock at this time, we are proud that our work can help zoo animals at risk of COVID-19,” said Mahesh Kumar, Senior Vice President, Global Biologics at Zoetis in the release.

Email reporter Alfonzo Galvan at agalvan@argusleader.com or follow on Twitter at @GalvanReports.