NEW YORK – A tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the new coronavirus, in what is believed to be the first known infection in an animal in the U.S. or a tiger anywhere, federal officials and the zoo said Sunday.
The 4-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia – and six other tigers and lions that also have fallen ill – are believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who wasn't yet showing symptoms, the zoo said. The first animal started showing symptoms March 27, and all are doing well and expected to recover, said the zoo, which has been closed to the public since March 16 amid the surging coronavirus outbreak in New York.
The test result stunned zoo officials. “I couldn't believe it,” director Jim Breheny said. But he hopes the finding can contribute to the global fight against the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Any kind of knowledge that we get on how it's transmitted, how different species react to it, that knowledge somehow is going to provide a greater base resource for people,” he said in an interview.
The finding raises new questions about transmission of the virus in animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which confirmed Nadia's test result at its veterinary lab, said there are no known cases of the virus in U.S. pets or livestock.
“There doesn't appear to be, at this time, any evidence that suggests that the animals can spread the virus to people or that they can be a source of the infection in the United States,” Dr. Jane Rooney, a veterinarian and a USDA official, said in an interview.
The USDA said Sunday it's not recommending routine coronavirus testing of animals, in zoos or elsewhere, or of zoo employees. The coronavirus outbreaks around the world are driven by person-to-person transmission, experts say.
There have been a handful of reports outside the U.S. of pet dogs or cats becoming infected after close contact with contagious people, including a Hong Kong dog that tested positive for a low level of the pathogen in February and early March. Hong Kong agriculture authorities concluded that pet dogs and cats couldn't pass the virus to human beings but could test positive if exposed by their owners.