Gorillas, Including The World's Oldest, Test Positive for COVID-19 at Zoo Atlanta

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Several gorillas at Zoo Atlanta have tested positive for COVID-19, the zoo reported last week.

According to a notice released by the zoo, the animals began showing symptoms like coughing, nasal discharge, and minor changes in appetite. The zoo's veterinary team immediately collected health samples to send to the​​ Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Georgia, where they tested presumptively positive.

"The teams are very closely monitoring the affected gorillas and are hopeful they will make a complete recovery," Sam Rivera, DVM, the zoo's senior director of animal health said. "They are receiving the best possible care, and we are prepared to provide additional supportive care should it become necessary,"

The zoo has 20 western lowland gorillas, living in four different troops. It is believed that the infected gorillas came into contact with the virus through a member of the veterinary staff, who was fully vaccinated, wearing PPE and asymptomatic on the day. The zoo will continue to regularly test the gorillas for COVID-19, regardless of whether or not they are showing symptoms.

One of the primates infected is 60-year-old Ozzie, the oldest male gorilla in the world, according to Atlanta news outlet, 11 Alive.

"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," Rivera said.

The gorilla enclosure is one of the parts of the zoo where COVID safety protocols are most stringent. Team members are required to wear PPE, including gloves, masks and Tyvek suits. They never share the same physical space as the gorillas, with social distancing or barriers in place.

The zoo recently received a shipment of the Zoetis vaccine, made specifically for animals to guard against COVID-19. The vaccine has been used by many zoos across the country, including California's Oakland Zoo and the San Diego Zoo. Zoo Atlanta will use its doses to vaccinate its Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, African lions, and clouded leopard. When the gorillas recover, they will also receive the vaccine.

Last year, tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing symptoms like a dry cough.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.