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First known case of COVID19 in Great Apes reported at San Diego Zoo

Donnerstag, 14 Januar 2021 20:53 General News

This Monday, January 11th San Diego Zoo Safari Park reported cases of coronavirus in a troop of eight Western Lowland Gorillas, the first known case of the virus in Great Apes.

Faecal samples from three of the gorillas were tested after they were observed coughing, confirming they have the virus. Faecal samples from the remaining members of the troop will be tested.

It is thought that the troop was infected by an asymptomatic member of staff at the zoo, despite the requirement for all staff in close contact with animals to wear masks. This calls into question the efficacy of masks in preventing spread to zoo animals. San Diego Zoo has now made it a requirement for staff to wear face shields and eye goggles when in close proximity to animals.

Whilst the gorillas have experienced relatively mild symptoms thus far (congestion, coughing, and lethargy), the confirmation that gorillas can contract the virus is still highly concerning with the Eastern gorilla and Western gorilla classified by the IUCN as endangered and critically endangered, respectively.

The confirmation that Great Apes can contract coronavirus is not surprising to many scientists, with several predictions that Great Apes would be highly susceptible to coronavirus due to highly conserved amino acids within ACE2 - the main receptor for SARS-CoV-2. 

The news is concerning not only in the context of captive apes, but also wild populations – gorillas are highly social animals, so infections are susceptible to spreading throughout populations rapidly.

This issue was demonstrated in the outbreak of a respiratory disease among chimpanzees in Uganda, 2013, in the middle phase of which 40 individuals were ill and 4 died.

Given the existing pressures of habitat destruction and poaching on Great Apes, it remains to be seen how severely the COVID19 pandemic will affect the remaining wild, and captive, populations.

As humans increasingly come into contact with apes, it becomes ever more pressing that methods are formulated to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases.

To learn more about the effects of COVID-19 on apes, watch our panel discussion on the topic. 


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