Snow leopard at San Diego Zoo suspected positive for COVID-19

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The San Diego Zoo announced Friday a male snow leopard at their facility is suspected to be positive for COVID-19.

Wildlife care specialists Thursday said they noticed Ramil the snow leopard had a cough and nasal discharge.

“The origin of the possible exposure is still being investigated as we continue our contact tracing efforts,” zoo officials said in a statement. “In an abundance of caution, the leopard habitat will be closed to Zoo visitors until further notice. We ask that you keep our snow leopard and the incredible team of dedicated wildlife care professionals and veterinarians who serve him in your thoughts during this time.”

Fecal samples from the snow leopard were collected by the staff to test, which later confirmed the presence of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The results were sent to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System (CAHFS) for further testing, and those results also were positive,” zoo officials said. “All positive tests for SARS-CoV-2 are required to be sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL), where the results are still pending.”

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance confirmed the male snow leopard “appears to be doing well, and is showing no additional symptoms other than the cough and runny nose.”

“He shares his habitat with a female snow leopard and two Amur leopards,” zoo officials said. “San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance veterinarians assume these three individuals have also been exposed. They are currently being quarantined in their habitat. Veterinarians are monitoring them closely, and will treat symptoms as they may arise. Because these Amur leopards and snow leopards are being quarantined, their habitat will be closed to Zoo visitors until further notice.”

Zoo officials said it is not yet known how the Ramil became infected.

“While we await the results of tests to determine if the snow leopard is positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, we can assure you the snow leopard and the Amur leopards who share his habitat are receiving excellent care,” said Dwight Scott, executive director at San Diego Zoo. “Our veterinary teams and wildlife care specialists at both the Zoo and Safari Park are highly skilled, dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to ensure the well-being of the wildlife in our care.”

Back in January, the San Diego Zoo said the gorilla troop at the Safari Park fully recovered after contracting SARS-CoV-2 from an asymptomatic wildlife care specialist.

“During this pandemic, these animals needed care and these animals needed people in touch with them to clean to feed them to keep their behaviors,” Veterinarian Julio Mercado said. “The higher risk of infection is obviously where there is a human to animal contact, and zoos are obviously one of those places.”

A zoo official also told FOX 5 the snow leopard had not been vaccinated, but they have been vaccinating other animals.

“We received a donation of vaccines that are intended to protect animals and have been trying to vaccinate them as fast as possible and safely as possible,” the zoo official said.

In March, the park had four orangutans and five bonobos at its zoo vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. 

Ramil, who is also missing an eye, not because of COVID-19, had surgery back in 2017 after having a chronic eye condition. 

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