The Associated Press
This undated photo from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park shows an African gorilla. (Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo Safari Park via AP)
SAN DIEGO –
Several gorillas in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the coronavirus in what is believed to be the first known cases among such primates in the USA and possibly worldwide.
The park’s executive director, Lisa Peterson, told The Associated Press on Monday that eight gorillas living together in the park are believed to have the virus and several have coughed.
It appears that the infection came from a member of the park’s wildlife team who also tested positive for the virus but was asymptomatic and wore a mask around the gorillas at all times. The park has been closed to the public since December 6th to contain coronavirus cases.
Veterinarians are closely monitoring the gorillas and they will remain in their habitat in the park north of San Diego, Peterson said. They are currently receiving vitamins, fluids, and food, but no specific treatment for the virus.
While other wildlife have transmitted the coronavirus from mink to tiger, this is the first known case of transmission to great apes and it is not known if they will have serious reactions.
Wildlife experts have expressed concern about the coronavirus infecting gorillas, an endangered species that shares 98.4 percent of its DNA with humans and are naturally social animals.
The infected gorillas in San Diego Safari Park are western lowland gorillas whose population has declined by more than 60% in the past two decades due to poaching and disease, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The safari park tested the gorilla troop’s droppings after two monkeys started coughing on Jan. 6. Positive test results have been confirmed in three gorillas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Feces from all eight in the force are taken for testing.
Zoo officials speak to experts who have treated the coronavirus in humans in case the animals develop more severe symptoms. They stay together as their separation can be detrimental to the gorillas, who live in closely related groups.
« This is a wildlife that has its own resilience and can heal differently than we can, » said Peterson.
The safari park on Monday added additional safety measures to its staff, including the requirement of face and eye protection when in contact with the animals.
Confirmation that gorillas are susceptible to the coronavirus helps provide information on how the pandemic may affect these species in their natural habitats where they come into contact with humans and human material, the park officials said >
San Diego Zoo Safari Park plans to share what they have learned with health officials, conservationists, and scientists to develop steps to protect the gorillas in the forests of Africa.
Full coverage at CTVNews.ca/Coronavirus
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