It's suspected that an asymptomatic human animal handler transmitted COVID-19 to as many as eight gorillas at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. It's the first known case of natural transmission of the virus to great apes. All infected gorillas are expected to fully recover.
Members of the Gorilla Troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. On Wednesday, January 6, two of the gorillas began coughing. Given current circumstances, San Diego Zoo Global initiated the process of testing fecal samples from the gorillas for SARS-CoV-2 through the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System (CA HFS). On January 8, the preliminary tests detected the presence of the virus in the gorilla troop. The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) confirmed the positive results on Monday, January 11.
The test results confirm the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in some of the gorillas and does not definitively rule out the presence of the virus in other members of the troop.
"Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well," said Lisa Peterson, executive director, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. "The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking. We are hopeful for a full recovery."
It is suspected the gorillas acquired the infection from an asymptomatic staff member, despite following all recommended precautions including COVID-19 safety protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and San Diego County Public Health as well as wearing PPE when near the gorillas. Research studies have verified that some non-human primates are susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2, but this is the first known instance of natural transmission to great apes and it is unknown if they will have any serious reaction.
photo via San Diego Zoo Safari Park