DENVER — Denver Zoo announced Thursday that its two 11-year-old Amur tigers, Yuri and Nikita, have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
A test, conducted after zoo staff noticed that the Siberian tigers appeared lethargic and were coughing and sneezing, showed “presumptive positive” results through fecal and nasal swab samples at the Colorado State University lab in Fort Collins, a zoo news release said Thursday.
The results were confirmed positive by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.
Yuri and Nikita are the first animals at the zoo to test positive for COVID-19, and appear to be improving at this time. No other animal at the zoo shows symptoms of infection, the zoo said.
“We’ve known for a long time what species at the Zoo are susceptible to the virus, and we’ve taken every necessary precaution to protect all of our animals,” said Brian Aucone, senior vice president for Life Sciences at Denver Zoo. “Although we can’t be certain how Yuri and Nikita became infected with COVID-19, we’re fortunate to have an incredible staff with the expertise and experience to recognize their symptoms, and provide excellent care and treatment.”
The zoo said it has taken precautions to protect its animals, staff and visitors since the pandemic started, an email from communications director Jake Kubié said.
The zoo said it has worked on safety protocals with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado Department of Agriculture and USDA. Zoo staff adhere to protocol around its animals, including required use of personal protective equipment, hygiene, cleaning, employee self-screening and health management.
In 2020, the zoo installed barriers around the tigers’ habitat, The Edge, to ensure safe distancing between guests and the animals.
Although neither tiger has been vaccinated against COVID-19, the zoo’s veterinarians plan to vaccinate them when more doses of the animal-specific Zoetis vaccine become available.
Both tigers will have access to their outdoor habitats, the zoo said, adding that tiger demonstrations have been suspended until they fully recover.