18 of 20 gorillas at Atlanta’s zoo contract COVID, officials say

ATLANTA — Officials on Tuesday said at least 18 of the 20 gorillas at Atlanta’s zoo have now tested positive for COVID-19.

Zoo Atlanta had announced the first positive tests among the gorillas on Friday after employees noticed the gorillas had been coughing, had runny noses and showed changes in appetite.

The zoo says it is using monoclonal antibodies to treat the gorillas at risk of developing complications from the virus.

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Officials say there’s no evidence that the gorillas can pass the virus back to humans and visitors are too far away to be infected by gorillas.

“While humans are known to be able to transmit the virus to animals such as gorillas, and these cases have occurred at other zoos, there is currently no data to suggest that zoo animals can transmit the virus to humans,” zoo officials said. “Regardless, Zoo Atlanta visitors do not pose a transmission threat to the gorillas or vice versa given the distance between the areas used by guests and the animals’ habitats.”

The outbreak occurred just days before the zoo had hoped to obtain a veterinary vaccine for the primates.

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Sam Rivera, the senior director of animal health at Zoo Atlanta, said he hopes the gorillas all make a full recovery, but he is concerned about how the infections occurred considering their strict protocols.

“The infections occurred in an area of the Zoo where COVID safety protocols are already at their most stringent,” Rivera said. “The use of PPE when working with great apes was already a standard practice at Zoo Atlanta due to their susceptibility to many of the same illnesses experienced by humans, including the common cold and influenza.”

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Several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park also tested positive for the novel coronavirus earlier this year.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report