At least two gorillas started coughing last week, while a third is showing symptoms and five others could also be infected, zoo officials said.
Several gorillas at San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the coronavirus in what is believed to be the first known case among these primates in the United States and possibly around the world.
Park executive director Lisa Peterson told the Associated Press on Monday that eight gorillas living together in the park are believed to be carrying the virus and several are coughing.
It appears the infection came from a member of the park’s wildlife care team, who also tested positive for the virus but was asymptomatic and had worn a mask around the gorillas at all times.
The park has been closed to the public since December 6 as part of the state of California’s lockdown efforts to combat cases of the coronavirus.
At least two of the gorillas started coughing last week, while a third is showing symptoms.
The positive test results were confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories of the US Department of Agriculture in three gorillas. The excrements of the eight members of the troop are being tested.
Sensitive non-human primates
Aside from a little congestion and cough, gorillas are fine, Peterson added.
“The troops remain in quarantine together and eat and drink. We hope for a full recovery. “
Gorillas share up to 98% of their DNA with humans, and studies have shown that some non-human primates are also susceptible to COVID-19 infection.
It is not yet known whether the gorillas will have a serious reaction to the disease which has killed nearly two million people and infected nearly 91 million others.
The gorillas infected in San Diego Park are western lowland gorillas, whose population has declined by more than 60 percent in the past 20 years due to poaching and disease, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Zoo officials are speaking with experts who treat the coronavirus in humans in case the animals develop more severe symptoms.
They will stay together as separating them could be harmful to gorillas who live in tightly knit groups.
“It’s about wildlife and they have their own resilience and can heal differently than us,” said Peterson, the zoo chief.
On Monday, the safari park added additional safety measures for its staff, including requiring face shields and goggles when working in contact with animals.
Confirmation that gorillas are susceptible to the coronavirus contributes to information on how the pandemic may affect these species in their native habitats where they come in contact with humans and human material, park officials said.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park plans to share what it learns with health officials, conservationists and scientists to develop measures to protect gorillas in Africa’s forests.