Several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming what federal officials said on Monday were the first known apes in the nation to be infected.
Zoo officials said on Monday that they believed the gorillas were infected by an asymptomatic staff member who had been following safety recommendations, including wearing personal protective equipment when near animals.
Veterinarians are closely monitoring the troop, which is made up of eight western lowland gorillas. The infected animals are expected to make a full recovery, officials said.
“Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” Lisa Peterson, executive director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, said in a statement.
Three animals are exhibiting symptoms like coughing, officials said. But because gorilla live together in troops, “we have to assume,” the zoo said, “that all members of the family group have been exposed.”
The number of western lowland gorillas, which can be found in central Africa, has declined by more than 60 percent over the past two decades, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Zoo officials learned that at least two gorillas had been infected with the coronavirus after they were observed on Wednesday “coughing and showing other mild symptoms,” the zoo said in the statement.
On Friday, tests by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System showed that the coronavirus was present in the troop’s fecal matter, the zoo said. On Saturday, tests by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, which provides testing for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, confirmed the troop was infected, the zoo said.
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has been temporarily closed since Dec. 6 amid the lockdown in California, and the primate habitat where the gorillas are housed poses “no public health risk,” officials said. Last year, as the pandemic spread across the country, the zoo installed additional protective barriers to ensure that there was more than six feet separating visitors and “susceptible species,” officials said.
The gorillas in San Diego are among the latest animals to become infected with the coronavirus, which has killed more than 375,000 people in the United States, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
In April, the first case of human-to-cat transmission was detected when a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City tested positive for the virus. In August, minks on two farms in Utah tested positive. In December, the country’s first coronavirus infection in a snow leopard was detected at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky.
The 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research are both in the city of Escondido, Calif., about 30 miles north of the San Diego Zoo. All three are part of the San Diego Zoo Global organization.