6 lions, 3 tigers at Smithsonian National Zoo being treated for COVID-19

Six African lions, two Amur tigers and a Sumatran tiger at the Smithsonian National Zoo are being treated for coronavirus, the zoo said Friday.

Animal keepers at the Smithsonian National Zoo observed decreased appetites, coughing, sneezing and lethargy in several lions and tigers last weekend. Zoo officials collected fecal samples from the cats and those samples tested presumptive positive for COVID-19.

“The tigers are less affected than the lions, showing fewer symptoms. The varying degrees of symptoms have us watching all of the animals very carefully,” zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson told WTOP. “We’re being as positive as possible.”

Fecal samples require a second test at a national lab to confirm the positive cases. A zoo spokeswoman said those results are expected early next week.

The zoo said it doesn’t know how the cats were infected with the virus. No other animals at the zoo showed signs of infection and members of the public who’ve attended the zoo are not at risk.

“The health and safety of Smithsonian staff, animals and visitors is our number one priority,” the zoo said in a news release.

“The Zoo’s existing COVID-19 protocols restrict behind-the-scenes access in all animal areas and require use of personal protective equipment, hygiene, cleaning, employee self-screening and health management. The Zoo’s COVID safety and response protocols are in place and being strictly followed.”

The nine cats showing symptoms are being treated with anti-inflammatories and anti-nausea medication to deal with their symptoms. They’re being given antibiotics for secondary bacterial pneumonia too.

The zoo said the first round of Zoetis coronavirus vaccine — made specifically for zoo animals — will be administered to select animals at the zoo when it becomes available in the coming months.

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Thomas Robertson

Thomas Robertson is an Associate Producer and Web Writer/Editor at WTOP. After graduating in 2019 from James Madison University, Thomas moved away from Virginia for the first time in his life to cover the local government beat for a small daily newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.

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