San Diego Zoo Gorillas Test Positive for COVID-19, First Known Case Confirmed in Apes

San Diego Zoo Gorillas Test Positive for COVID-19, First Known Case Confirmed in Apes
Gorillas sit after two of their troop tested positive for COVID-19 after falling ill, and a third gorilla appears also to be symptomatic, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in San Diego, Calif., on Jan. 10, 2021. (Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global/Handout via Reuters)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

Two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo have tested positive for COVID-19, the zoo announced, marking it the first known such cases confirmed in apes.

San Diego Zoo Global announced that two gorillas at its San Diego Zoo Safari Park began coughing on Jan. 6, and that it began the process of testing fecal samples from the gorillas through the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System (CA HFS).

Preliminary tests found the presence of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, in the gorilla troop. The positive results were confirmed on Monday by the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“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,” it said.

The zoo said it suspected that the gorillas “acquired the infection from an asymptomatic staff member,” despite the staffer having adhered to all COVID-19 recommended precautions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and San Diego County Public Health, which included wearing personal protective equipment around the gorillas.

“Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” Lisa Peterson, San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s executive director, said in a statement. “The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking. We are hopeful for a full recovery.”

“For almost one year our team members have been working tirelessly, with the utmost determination to protect each other and the wildlife in our care from this highly contagious virus,” she added. “The safety of our staff and the wildlife in our care remains our number one priority.”

In an update on the CCP virus for California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that it is unclear whether the virus was transmitted between animals, or from humans, and that the matter was under investigation.

The CCP virus has also been found in a number of other wild-animal species in captivity, including several lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York and four lions at the Barcelona Zoo in Spain.

But the gorillas in San Diego are believed to mark the first known case of infections confirmed in apes. The virus also has shown up in a number of household dogs and cats.

Last month, the USDA said it had confirmed the first known case of the coronavirus in an animal in the wild, a mink, following an outbreak among farmed minks that killed 15,000 of the animals.

Reuters contributed to this report.