News reports suggest two gorillas at San Diego Zoo, USA, have tested positive for COVID-19 and another is showing early symptoms. They are part of a group of eight who live together at the zoo, and zoo veterinarians are monitoring them closely. The infection is suspected to have spread to the animals from an asymptomatic infected zoo staff member in what is believed to be the first confirmed reports of COVID-19 among gorillas.
Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy, said: “Gorillas are critically endangered across their remaining African range. These are highly social animals who live in tight knit family groups, which makes them potentially very vulnerable to infectious diseases. The news that captive gorillas have contracted COVID-19, and are showing some clinical signs of disease, is therefore very worrying; an outbreak of COVID-19 among wild gorillas could have a devastating effect on already fragile populations – the loss of even a few individuals could be catastrophic.”
The discovery raises concerns not only for the health and well-being of captive gorillas in zoos and parks, but also for their wild relatives where they tolerate human visitors.
Dr Jones added: “Carefully managed wild gorilla encounters have played a big part in the protection of certain wild populations, although such encounters involve close proximity between park staff, tourists and gorillas, so the potential risk of transmitting viruses to the gorillas needs to be taken very seriously, and every effort made to eliminate the risk. The international community must come together to ensure that funding for gorilla conservation efforts continues in the face of reduced tourism income.”
COVID-19 infections have been confirmed in farmed and wild mink, and in captive big cats.
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