Even though the coronavirus pandemic has turned the world upside down for months, you’ll notice that very little has changed inside the National Zoo in its first weekend back open to the public.
We know the Bronx Zoo in New York famously saw animals, including tigers, get the coronavirus. In hindsight, that’s only somewhat surprising since this is a virus that originated in another animal species and jumped to humans, launching its worldwide spread.
But inside the National Zoo here in D.C., it was business as usual. No animals have gotten sick as the precautions taken there are the same precautions we’ve had drilled into us by public health professionals since March.
“COVID[-19] is a zoonotic disease. We are always prepared for zoonotic disease here. Avian influenza, e-coli, rabies, anything,” said Brandie Smith, the deputy director of the National Zoo and the head of animal care.
“So that is part of the work that we do and we always operate safety to make sure that we’re not transmitting diseases back and forth between people and animals.”
That means even in a pre-COVID-19 world, the zoo’s staff was already wearing masks when they were up close with primates. Any animal that got sick led to staff wearing masks around it as well.
“The reality is we use the same principles that we always do,” said Smith. “It’s good hygiene and protecting ourselves and the animals by wearing face coverings.”
“The protocols are not unique to us, the only difference is the fact that it has expanded across the entire zoo for this much time,” she added.
But during the time when the zoo was closed for the public, there was one animal group at the zoo that got sick, leading to some concern.
“Some of our lemurs got sick,” said Smith. “The symptoms didn’t necessarily match up 100% with COVID[-19] symptoms. That said we wanted to be extra sure so we did test them for COVID[-19] and the tests came back negative.”
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