Several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming what federal officials say are the first known apes in the United States to be infected.
Zoo officials said on Monday that they believed the gorillas were infected by an asymptomatic staff member who had been following safety recommendations, including wearing personal protective equipment when near animals.
Veterinarians are closely monitoring the troop, which is made up of eight western lowland gorillas. The infected animals are expected to make a full recovery, officials said.
“Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” Lisa Peterson, the Safari Park’s executive director, said in a statement.
Three animals are exhibiting symptoms, officials said. And because gorillas live together in troops, “we have to assume,” the zoo said, “that all members of the family group have been exposed.”
The total number of western lowland gorillas, which can be found in central Africa, has declined more than 60 percent over the past two decades, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Zoo officials learned that at least two gorillas had been infected with the coronavirus after the animals were observed on Wednesday “coughing and showing other mild symptoms,” the zoo said in the statement.
The zoo’s Safari Park has been closed since Dec. 6 amid a lockdown, and the primate habitat where the gorillas are housed poses “no public health risk,” officials said. Last year, as the pandemic spread across the country, the zoo installed additional barriers to ensure that more than six feet of space separated visitors from “susceptible species,” officials said.
The gorillas are among the latest animals in the country to become infected with the coronavirus. In April, the first case of human-to-cat transmission was detected in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. In August, minks on two farms in Utah tested positive. In December, a coronavirus infection in a snow leopard was detected at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky.