The 20 gorillas at Zoo Atlanta are divided into four troops, and members of every troop have shown evidence of infection. Rivera said it is likely that the virus made its way into the gorilla population from an animal care staffer who was asymptomatic when she came to work, but was tested later and was shown to be positive.
That staffer had already been vaccinated and was wearing the protective gear that has long been part of Zoo Atlanta protocol, including gloves, mask and a face shield.
There is no requirement that members of the Zoo Atlanta staff get vaccinated, though a high percentage of the staff has been vaccinated, said spokesperson Rachel Davis.
Because the gorillas live together in close proximity, it is impossible to isolate the affected members, said Rivera. All will be tested. As the affected gorillas recover from their symptoms, the staff plans on vaccinating the gorilla population with the Zoetis vaccine, which was developed for veterinary use and had been used at the San Diego zoo on its ape population.
Zoo Atlanta has already vaccinated its Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, its Sumatran tigers, its African lions and its clouded leopard.
Atlanta’s veterinary team is treating some of the gorillas at risk of serious complications with monoclonal antibodies, starting with the most senior members.
Those include Ozzie, who, at 60, is the oldest male gorilla in captivity. Rivera said Ozzie is showing mild symptoms. “We don’t feel that we’re out of the woods,” he added. “We’re taking it on a day by day basis.”
Humans are known to infect animals, but the distances between visitors to the zoos and the apes would make animal-to-human transmission extremely unlikely. The CDC says animals don’t play a significant role in spreading COVID to humans.
Other zoos have begun vaccinating at-risk animals, including the Detroit Zoo, which announced plans to vaccinate its gorillas, chimpanzees, tigers and lions.
COVID-19 has been known to infect tigers, lions, mink, snow leopards, cougars, dogs and domestic cats.