A male snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo has preliminarily tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, it was announced Friday.
On Thursday, wildlife care specialists noticed the snow leopard had a cough and nasal discharge. Fecal samples tested at the zoo confirmed the presence of the virus.
The results were sent to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System for further testing, and those results also were positive.
All positive tests for the virus are required to be sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories, where the results are still pending.
The male snow leopard appears to be doing well, according to a statement from the zoo, and shows no symptoms other than the cough and runny nose. He shares his habitat with a female snow leopard and two Amur leopards.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance veterinarians assume those three animals also have been exposed, and are quarantining them in their habitat. Veterinarians are monitoring them closely, and will treat symptoms as they may arise. Because of the quarantine, the habitat will be closed to zoo visitors until further notice.
Dwight Scott, executive director of the San Diego Zoo said sought to assure the public that “the snow leopard and the Amur leopards who share his habitat are receiving excellent care.”
It is not yet known how the male snow leopard acquired the infection. The zoo previously had biosecurity protocols in place which were heightened around wildlife at the onset of the pandemic last year.
The practices include the use of personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfection protocols, quarantine procedures for new arrivals and preventive medicine, such as vaccination.
All employees receive N95 face masks, and those who are not vaccinated are required to wear masks and practice health and safety protocols at all times.
In January, the gorilla troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park contracted SARS-CoV-2 from an asymptomatic wildlife care specialist. The troop has fully recovered.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is sharing information on what is being learned from documentation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the gorillas – and also what is being learned from the snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo – among global conservation organizations and wildlife care professionals at more than 200 zoos worldwide.
Scott added that guests visiting the San Diego Zoo should feel confident in knowing they are not at risk from the wildlife. Their facilities follow county and state health and safety guidelines, and ask guests who are not fully vaccinated to wear masks and practice social distancing.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance recently received a donation of recombinant purified spike protein vaccine, intended for use in protecting animals against SARS-CoV-2.
The vaccine doses were donated by Zoetis, an animal health company, and are intended for non-human use. The veterinary teams and wildlife care specialists at both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are in the process of administering doses as a preventative measure for wildlife most at risk of contracting the virus – including leopards, lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, mountain lions and others.
The male snow leopard had not been vaccinated.