Publish: 12 Jan 2021, 12:19 pm
The infection supposedly came from a member of the park’s wildlife care team
Several gorillas in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive for coronavirus in what is believed to be the first known cases among such primates in the United States and possibly the world.
Eight gorillas living together in the park are believed to have a virus and several have been coughing, reports AP.
The park's executive director, Lisa Peterson, said that the vets are closely monitoring gorillas and will remain in their habitat in the park north of San Diego.
The infection was allegedly caused by a member of the Park Wildlife Care Team who also tested positive for the virus but was asymptomatic and wore a mask all the time around the gorillas.
For now, the gorillas are being given vitamins, fluid and food but no specific treatment for the virus.
"Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well," Peterson said.
While other wildlife has contracted coronavirus from minks to tigers, this is the first known case of transmission to large apes, and it is not known whether they will have any serious reactions.
Wildlife experts have expressed concern about coronavirus infecting gorillas, endangered species that share 98.4% of their DNA with humans and are inherently social animals.
The gorillas infected at the San Diego safari park are western lowland gorillas, whose population has declined by more than 60% over the last two decades because of poaching and disease, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The safari park tested gorilla troop stool after two apes began to cough Jan. 6. Positive test results were confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Veterinary Services Laboratories in three gorillas. Stool samples from all eight of the troops are taken for testing.
Zoo officials are talking to experts who have been treating coronavirus in humans if the animals develop more serious symptoms. They're going to stay together because separating them could be harmful to gorillas living in tight-knit groups.
"This is wildlife, and they have their own resiliency and can heal differently than we do," Peterson said.
On Monday, the safari park added more safety measures to its staff, including the need for face shields and eye lenses when working in contact with animals.
The confirmation that gorillas are susceptible to the coronavirus contributes to information about how the pandemic may affect these species in their native habitats where they come into contact with humans and human materials, the park officials said.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park plans to share what it learns with health officials, conservationists and scientists to develop steps to protect gorillas in the forests of Africa.