Zoo Atlanta Reveals 20 of Their Gorillas Were Exposed to COVID, Will Get Vaccinated After Recovery

Zoo Atlanta revealed their western lowland gorillas displayed symptoms of “coughing, nasal discharge, and minor changes in appetite”

A male silverback gorilla sits in his enclosure on February 1, 2019 at the Atlanta zoo in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty

Gorillas at Zoo Atlanta have been suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.

Officials announced on Friday that some of their 20 western lowland gorillas experienced symptoms of "coughing, nasal discharge, and minor changes in appetite."

The Animal Care and Veterinary Teams at the zoo went on to test them for COVID-19 and received "presumptive positive test results" from fecal samples and nasal and oral swabs sent to Athens Veterinary Diagnostic.

They are also waiting for confirmatory test results from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory.

Zoo Atlanta didn't disclose exactly how many of their 20 gorillas tested positive, although in the comments section of an Instagram post, they stated, "It is our assumption that all members of our four gorilla troops have been exposed, regardless of symptoms exhibited or not exhibited. All of the members of all four of our gorilla troops are being monitored very closely, even those who have not displayed symptoms."

"The teams are very closely monitoring the affected gorillas and are hopeful they will make a complete recovery. They are receiving the best possible care, and we are prepared to provide additional supportive care should it become necessary," Sam Rivera, DVM, Senior Director of Animal Health, said in a statement. "We are very concerned that these infections occurred, especially given that our safety protocols when working with great apes and other susceptible animal species are, and throughout the pandemic have been, extremely rigorous."

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Zoo Atlanta — which is home to the world's oldest living male gorilla, named Ozzie — revealed in the press release that they believe the gorillas contracted COVID-19 from a fully vaccinated team member who was asymptomatic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the virus could "spread from people to animals in some situations, especially during close contact," but they are still learning about the link.

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Zoo Atlanta

In wake of a growing number of zoo animals contracting COVID-19 this year — such as a troop of eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park — veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis donated more than 11,000 doses of its experimental vaccine for animals to about 70 zoos, sanctuaries, conservatories, academic institutions, and governmental operations, the company said in a news release in July.

Zoo Atlanta stated in their announcement that they had been on the waitlist to receive Zoetis, which is why their gorillas hadn't been vaccinated. However, the vaccines have now arrived at the facility and they plan to administer them once the animals recover. They also plan to vaccinate their Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, African lions, and clouded leopard.

Due in part to hunting, habitat loss, and disease, western lowland gorillas are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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