Louisville Zoo, others taking precautions after tiger in New York contracts COVID-19

by: Chad Mills


This undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society shows Nadia, a Malayan Tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Nadia has tested positive for the new coronavirus, in what is believed to be the first known infection in an animal in the U.S. or a tiger anywhere, federal officials and the zoo said Sunday, April 5, 2020. (Julia Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society via AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It’s strangely quiet, but behind the closed gates of the Louisville Zoo, work continues.

As the deadly COVID-19 pandemic spreads, zookeepers such as senior staff veterinarian Dr. Zoli Gyimesi have divided into two teams and are subject to daily temperature checks.

The Louisville Zoo is taking extra precautions to protect its animal collection during the COVID-19 outbreak. (WDRB photo)

“We’re taking many common sense precautions here at the zoo,” Gyimesi said.

But, now they’re taking new precautions after a tiger at the Bronx Zoo, in New York, tested positive for COVID-19 this past weekend.

“And that’s the first documented case in the United States where an animal is infected with the novel coronavirus that causes, you know, COVID-19,” the veterinarian said.

The Louisville Zoo is taking extra precautions to protect its animal collection during the COVID-19 outbreak. (WDRB Photo)

Zookeepers were already wearing face masks around gorillas and other animals, but now they’ll do so around the lions, tigers and other zoo cats.

“When they have to be within 6 feet of a cat, when they’re training, feeding, shifting a cat, or if they have to enter the cat’s enclosure for cleaning, or if they’re working with the cat’s food or preparing enrichment,” Gyimesi said.

Ultimately, he said, the precautions are necessary because scientists are still learning about how the virus spreads between humans and animals.

“There’s a lot we don’t know,” Gyimesi said.

A resident chimpanzee at the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville, Ky. (Courtesy: Primate Rescue Center)

The Primate Rescue Center outside Lexington, which rescues monkeys and apes, is dealing with that same uncertainty with similar precautions.

Executive Director Eileen Dunnington said center volunteers are staying home, and just a couple staff members are caring for the rescues. They might be susceptible to COVID-19, she said, because they’re genetically similar to humans.

“We don’t want to know how this affects chimpanzees and monkeys. We don’t want to find that out,” she said.

What about domestic pets like dogs and cats?

Even though the government has no reports of pets becoming sick with the virus in the U.S., Gyimesi and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with their pets.

“You know, not sharing food and letting a pet kiss or lick your face or, you know, that sort of thing,” Gyimesi said.

The federal government also says there’s no evidence that any animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 infection to people.