The push to vaccinate the country against COVID-19 is no longer limited to the human species. American zoos are beginning to vaccinate their animal residents.
Animal health company Zoetis is shipping a vaccine designed for animals, specifically “mammalian species,” to zoos nationwide, including the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. According to Charlotte’s WFAE News, the zoo intends to vaccinate its primates with the first shipment. Additional shipments will be used to vaccinate animals like lions, wolves, and bears. The CDC reports that COVID-19 infection seems limited to mammals, including big cats and primates, although “risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.”
B. Minter, director of Animal Health at the NC Zoo, emphasized that the vaccines used on the zoo’s residents are very similar to “a lot of the vaccines that the humans are using.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the experimental use of the vaccines on animals. Zoetis Vice President of Global Biologics Mahesh Kumar explained the reasoning behind the vaccine’s creation: “While thankfully a COVID-19 vaccine is not needed in pets or livestock at this time, we are proud that our work can help zoo animals at risk of COVID-19.”
While several lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the coronavirus in April 2020, no animals at the North Carolina Zoo have tested positive for COVID-19.
Another recipient of the vaccines was the San Diego Zoo. As the California zoo begins vaccinating its primate residents, the apes are trained to sit still as veterinarians inject them. “Our great apes are trained to participate in their own care,” remarked Lisa Peterson, director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We’re seeing their everyday personalities and vivaciousness coming back.”
The CDC reports, “At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading … COVID-19 to people.” While outbreaks in animal species have been rare, Denmark was forced to cull more than 17 million minks in November 2020 after mutated coronavirus was discovered in the population.
American zoos are working on developing a vaccination plan for their animal residents. Denver Zoo head veterinarian Scott Larsen told the Washington Examiner, “We have a tentative plan that’ll depend a little bit on logistics … we have seen disease within the zoo community … those species [primates and big cats] [are] where we would start because that seems to be where we have the highest risk.”
The Denver zoo will be receiving 40 doses of the Zoetis vaccine as the trend in vaccinating animals continues in more than 70 zoos across the country, including those in Central Park, Cincinnati, and Akron.