At least two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for COVID-19, and a zoo worker is thought to be responsible for the interspecies transmission.
According to the New York Times, zoo officials believed the gorillas were infected with COVID by an asymptomatic staff member who was wearing personal protective equipment when near animals and who was following other safety recommendations.
The park, located 30 miles north of the world-famous San Diego Zoo in Escondido, California, has been closed to the public since Dec. 6 due to increased coronavirus cases in the region.
“Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” Lisa Peterson, executive director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, said in a statement.
While the infected western lowland gorillas are expected to recover from COVID, there’s a concern that additional members of the eight-gorilla group will become infected, due to the gorillas living together. Zoo officials are operating under the premise that all of the gorillas have been exposed.
“The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking,” Peterson told CNN. “We are hopeful for a full recovery.”
The New York Times reported that on Jan. 8, California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System testing showed that the coronavirus was present in the troop’s fecal matter, the zoo said. The following day, tests by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, which does testing for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, confirmed the troop was infected.
While this is the first incident of a great ape species infection in the United States, coronavirus has previously spread from humans to other animals, including dogs and cats.
This past April brought the first human-to-cat transmission when a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City tested positive for coronavirus. Minks on two Utah farm tested positive in August, and in December, a snow leopard at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky tested positive.