Gorillas test positive for Covid-19 at San Diego Zoo

Several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for the Covid-19 in what is believed to be the first known cases among such primates in the world.

Tests were carried out after two of the gorillas at the California zoo started coughing - it appears the infection came from a member of the park’s wildlife care team who also tested positive for the virus but has been asymptomatic and wore a mask at all times around the gorillas.

The park has been closed to the public since December 6 as part of the state’s lockdown efforts to curb coronavirus spread.

It appears the infection came from an asymptomatic member of the park’s wildlife care team. Credit: Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Safari Park via AP

"Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” said Lisa Peterson, executive director at the park, said.

"The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking. We are hopeful for a full recovery."

Veterinarians are closely monitoring the gorillas and they will remain in their habitat at the park. For now, they are being given vitamins, fluid and food but no specific treatment for the virus.

While other wildlife has contracted the coronavirus from minks to tigers, this is the first known instance of transmission to great apes and it is unknown if they will have any serious reaction.

Wildlife experts have expressed concern about the coronavirus infecting gorillas, an endangered species that share 98.4 percent of their DNA with humans and are inherently social animals.

Lisa Peterson, executive director at the park, said the animals are experiencing 'mild symptoms'

The gorillas infected at the San Diego safari park are western lowland gorillas, whose population has declined by more than 60% over the last two decades because of poaching and disease, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The safari park tested faeces of the troop of gorillas after two apes began coughing on January 6.

Positive test results were confirmed by the US Department of Agriculture National Veterinary Services Laboratories in three gorillas.

Faeces from all eight in the troop are being taken for testing, with the entire group believed to have the virus.

Zoo officials are talking to experts who have been treating the coronavirus in humans in case the animals develop more severe symptoms.

They will remain together since separating them could be harmful to the gorillas that live in tight-knit groups.

The troop are in quarantine. Credit: Christina Simmons/ San Diego Zoo Safari Park

“This is wildlife, and they have their own resiliency and can heal differently than we do,” Ms Peterson said.

The safari park on Monday added more safety measures for its staff, including requiring face shields and eye goggles when working in contact with the animals.

The confirmation that gorillas are susceptible to the coronavirus contributes to information about how the pandemic may affect these species in their native habitats where they come into contact with humans and human materials, the park officials said.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park plans to share what it learns with health officials, conservationists and scientists to develop steps to protect gorillas in the forests of Africa.