A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York has surprised keepers by testing positive for the virus. The discovery has raised alarm about the potential vulnerability of a wide array of animals, but it does not necessarily mean the same animals pose a threat to people.
Four tigers and three lions at Bronx Zoo all developed a dry cough in recent days. Zookeepers were initially skeptical and were reluctant to go through the difficult processes required to test a big cat for the virus (sticking a swab up a tiger's nose).
However, Nadia, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger, needed to be anesthetized for other reasons, so, “Out of an abundance of caution,” Nadia got tested while she was in no position to object. The National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed Nadia's positive status, making this the first known case of a non-domesticated animal with COVID-19 symptoms.
The source of the infection has been attributed to an asymptomatic zookeeper, who also had contact with the other coughing big cats. However, none of the zoo’s snow leopards, cheetahs, clouded leopard, Amur leopard, puma or serval are showing any signs of illness.
Bronx Zoo has taken increased steps to prevent transmission between humans and animals, in either direction. However, as Netflix docuseries Tiger King has made aware, most of the big cats in captivity in America are not in public zoos. They're owned privately as pets or held by people whose approach to wildlife care might charitably be described as eccentric.