Who gave the snow leopard at the zoo COVID?!
Just when you thought you knew everything there is to know about COVID-19, the new Delta variant, and ways to keep yourself and your loved ones safe (vaccinate!), this happens. An unvaccinated snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo tested positive for COVID-19. Yes, a snow leopard.
A male snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo is suspected to have contracted SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Wildlife care specialists noticed the snow leopard was coughing and had nasal discharge, prompting the team to test for the virus. Results are pending at this time pic.twitter.com/GWLc6mygmw
— San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (@sandiegozoo) July 24, 2021
Ramil, a nine-year-old male snow leopard, had caretakers concerned when they noticed he had a cough and a runny nose on Thursday, July 22.
Zookeepers took two separate tests of Ramil’s stool and confirmed the presence of COVID-19, according to a statement made by the zoo the following day.
The snow leopard is being monitored closely and does not appear to have any major signs of illness other than the aforementioned symptoms. The origin of the possible exposure is still being investigated as we continue our contact tracing efforts. pic.twitter.com/pMNJcOfrJp— San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (@sandiegozoo) July 24, 2021
Fortunately, Ramil and his habitat-mates — a female snow leopard and two Amur leopards — seem to be doing okay. Ramil’s symptoms haven’t worsened, and so far, the other three animals have remained safe in quarantine. The exhibit is closed as Ramil recovers and the rest of the animals stay in isolation from the rest of the zoo.
In an abundance of caution, the leopard habitat will be closed to Zoo visitors until further notice. We ask that you keep our snow leopard and the incredible team of dedicated wildlife care professionals and veterinarians who serve him in your thoughts during this time. pic.twitter.com/FDDOnZBbpy— San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (@sandiegozoo) July 24, 2021
San Diego Zoo is unsure of how the snow leopard contracted the virus in the first place, as staff members are required to wear masks and use other PPE and sanitation precautions. Vaccination, however, is not required for the San Diego Zoo staff.
Ramil isn’t the first animal to contract COVID-19 at the San Diego Zoo. In January, eight gorillas at the zoo’s interactive Safari Park contracted the virus from an asymptomatic zookeeper.
The gorillas’ infection, in conjunction with Ramil’s COVID-19 case, had the zoo again requesting experimental COVID-19 vaccinations for animals most prone to catching the virus — large cats and primates — for emergency use.
A win for science: our partners at @Zoetis, a veterinary pharmaceutical company, developed a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) that we used to vaccinate great apes at the Zoo. The vaccine was created specifically for animals. @NatGeo https://t.co/ZpM5QVD4pl
— San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (@sandiegozoo) March 5, 2021
Again, the animals made a full recovery, but like humans, we still don’t know all of the long-term effects of contracting COVID-19. Some people who have had the virus have experienced elevated heart rates for months after infection, chronic lung issues, and other ailments associated with what people are calling “Long COVID,” or Post Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC). Long COVID can affect nearly any organ in the body, have a wide and varying range of symptoms, and testing long after the initial infection doesn’t always link the lasting symptoms to COVID-19.
Great news! Our gorilla troop has made a full recovery from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans. Starting today, our guests can once again connect with these primates and learn ways they can help save this important species. https://t.co/phlrubBPhr pic.twitter.com/Gpjdxy8UAY
— San Diego Zoo Safari Park (@sdzsafaripark) February 13, 2021
Vaccinating can also help keep you and your pets safe from contracting the virus, though Dr. Anthony Fauci explained in a town hall for kids that they shouldn’t be afraid to go near their pets and can still “give your pet a big hug” and not worry about being dangerous to them.
In the meantime, make sure to be wearing a mask in public, whether you are interacting with wild animals or not, because just like Ramil, the people around you can catch COVID-19 from anyone unvaccinated, even if they aren’t showing symptoms. Let’s keep everyone safe, people and animals alike.