COVID-19 cats: Three Virginia Zoo tigers test positive for virus

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Stubbley and Osceola, two Malayan tigers at the Virginia Zoo, have tested positive for the coronavirus. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)
UPDATE (Friday, April 16 at 6:30 p.m.): The Virginia Zoo posted the following on their Facebook page: “The SARS-CoV-2 virus results for all three tigers have come back positive. For the past two days all three tigers have been back to normal and appear to be making a full recovery at this time. Stubbley and Osceola are anticipated to be back on exhibit early next week. For up-to-date information, read more at VirginiaZoo.org/tigers.”

NORFOLK — Two tigers at the Virginia Zoo have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Stubbley and Osceola, the Virginia Zoo’s two Malayan tigers have tested positive for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) upon preliminary testing. Confirmatory testing is currently underway,” the Virginia Zoo wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. 

According to the social media post, the facility’s Animal Care Team noticed that the two tigers –– Stubbley and Osceola –– started experiencing “mild respiratory symptoms including a dry cough and wheezing,” similar to symptoms found in previous COVID-19 cases in big cats.

“Because of this, both of the tigers were tested out of an abundance of caution,” the post read.

The Virginia Zoo took nasal swabs and stool samples from both tigers and sent the samples to Cornell University in New York.

“At this time, it is unknown how the tigers contracted the virus. The disease can be transmitted from humans to big cats, such as tigers even with strict biosecurity protocols in place,” according to the zoo’s Facebook post. “Our Animal Care Team follows best practices to prevent the spread of zoonotic infections between humans and animals.”

Another Virginia Zoo tiger, Christopher, has developed similar symptoms. The zoo has conducted necessary tests and is awaiting results.

“Currently, none of the other big cats at the Zoo are showing any symptoms of the disease,” according to the zoo’s news release. “All reported COVID-19 cases in zoological institutions across the country have confirmed the complete recovery in their animals, and the Virginia Zoo expects the same with Stubbley and Osceola. As of today, both Stubbley and Osceola are in good spirits and are receiving supportive care from our Veterinary and Animal Care Staff.”

“Their symptoms appear to be improving thanks to the quick actions and decisions of animal care staff to initiate testing and wonderful care at the onset of their symptoms,” the post noted.

The Zoo noted that the facility is working with the Norfolk Health Department, Virginia Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as other “national experts.”

As of Friday, it is not clear how the tigers caught the virus and if the zoo has received the test results of the third tiger.

What is also unclear is if the Virginia Zoo is testing other animals or staff members for the virus.

Ashley Grove Mars, spokesperson for the Virginia Zoo, was not immediately available for comment.

WYDaily will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

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