Bronx tiger tests positive for COVID-19, prompts changes at local zoos

TACOMA, Wash. — Nadia, a 4-year-old female Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo, has tested positive for COVID-19.

Zoo officials said Nadia, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers and three African lions had developed a dry cough and all are expected to recover.

"The big cats at the Bronx Zoo, according to the USDA, were exhibiting upper respiratory symptoms, which are the primary symptoms with a COVID-19 symptom in a person,” said Charlie Powell, Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine public information officer.

This marks the first case of its kind.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said a worker at the Bronx Zoo infected the tiger.

"So, how does that happen? The virus comes in, it infects the cat because the cat's cells have receptors on it that allow it to bind and invade that cell,” said Powell.

The news out of New York inspired the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma to reevaluate how they're caring for their tigers.

"Should staff be wearing masks now when working around cats? Should staff be social distancing? Because sometimes we get much closer than 6 feet away, so we want to look at that. We are going to probably increase our handwashing around the cats,” said Dr. Karen Goodrowe, Point Defiance Zoo general curator.

Point Defiance Zoo's three Sumatran tigers are being monitored closely. Currently, they're not showing symptoms.

The positive test at the Bronx Zoo also raises questions about domestic cats.

Doctors said people can give coronavirus to their pets, so if a person is showing coronavirus symptoms, it is smart to limit contact with animals.

Veterinarians said the good news is, so far, both big cats and house cats don't seem to get as sick as humans.

"In the big picture right now, this is a very small footnote to it, but it's something we will continue to observe,” said Dr. Douglas Kratt, American Veterinary Medical Association.

There is also no proof a cat can spread COVID-19 to a person.

"I personally have a cat, I'm going to go home and pet my cat this evening,” said Powell.

The Point Defiance Zoo closed March 14 and will stay closed until further notice.

Meanwhile, veterinarians in many cities are still working. Pet owners with specific coronavirus concerns are asked to call their local veterinarian.