A four-year-old Malayan tiger called Nadia has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Nadia resides at the Bronx Zoo in New York City and according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories, she is the first tiger to be infected with the virus.
The tiger was tested after a number of lions and tigers at the zoo started exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness, TIME has reported.
“She [Nadia], her sister Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions had developed a dry cough and all are expected to recover,” said a press release from The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which manage the zoo.
The virus was apparently transmitted to the cats from a zookeeper, who was asymptomatic.
“Public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus,” said a statement from the USDA.
Despite being ill, the WCS says that Nadia and the other big cats are doing well.
“Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers,” the statement read.
“It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries.”
While a handful of big cats at the Bronx Zoo were exhibiting symptoms, Nadia was the only one to be tested, the USDA has revealed.
“Only one tiger was tested as the collection of diagnostic samples in big cats requires general anesthesia. Since all tigers and lions were exhibiting similar respiratory symptoms, the attending veterinarian felt it was in the best interest of the animals to limit the potential risks of general anesthesia to one tiger for diagnostics.”
Although more research needs to be carried out regarding how the disease is transmitted, the USDA recommends keeping your distance from any animals or pets if you’re feeling unwell.
“This is the first case of its kind. We are still learning about this new coronavirus and how it spreads. This case suggests that a zoo employee spread the virus to the tiger. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19,” the USDA said.
“You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would with other people.”
The current health crisis is evolving rapidly. If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.