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Great Plains Zoo dealing with presumptive COVID-19 outbreak among animals

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 7:06 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The Great Plains Zoo says they’re dealing with a suspected outbreak of COVID-19 among some of its animals.

Last Thursday, one of their snow leopards, Baya, died after exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, and one of their tigers has tested positive for the virus.

The zoo says zookeepers noticed an Amur tiger, Keesa, coughing, so they tested Keesa, and a positive result came back last Wednesday. The next day, Baya, a snow leopard, died after exhibiting a similar cough and signs of lethargy.

After the unexpected loss of Baya, the Great Plains Zoo is working hard to prevent any similar outcomes.

“Any time you lose an animal it is difficult, I’d say it’s further exasperated when you have a dramatic decline in function, like what we saw with Baya,” Becky Dewitz, Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History CEO, said. “It was hard, it’s a deep wound, and we still grieve.”

GPZ Veterinarian Louden Wright says there is still a lot of research to be done about how the virus impacts animals, but it seems to attack the respiratory system, like in humans.

“Just like people, and like we’re seeing in our cats now, there is a spectrum in the severity of the disease,” Wright said. “Some are significantly injured by the disease and develop nasty Pneumonia, others seem to get over it pretty quickly.”

Keesa, the Amur tiger, tested positive for COVID and is under careful watch, as are other big cats in GPZ’s feline complex.

“First of all, any of the ones showing clinical signs are on antibiotics; now antibiotics will not treat COVID-19 or any other viral disease, but what it does is prevent a secondary bacterial infection,” Wright said. “We’re also making sure that their appetites stay good, that they continue to eat and take in nutrition, and also stay hydrated.”

Dewitz says the health of the zoo’s animals is the top priority.

“We just want to give them everything they need so they can be healthy, and get them right back on exhibit,” Dewitz said.

The Great Plains Zoo isn’t the only zoo to deal with this issue.

“Bronx Zoo, the National Zoo, have both had outbreaks in their large cats... San Diego Zoo, Atlanta Zoo has had outbreaks in some of their non-human primates, the gorillas,” Wright said.

As far as how the animals caught the virus, it’s unknown. But help may be on the way.

“There actually is a vaccine that the company Zoetis is starting to produce, we’re working on getting doses here but have not received them yet,” Wight said. “It seems to have a protective effect in people and our hope is that will in our animals as well.”

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