Utah’s Hogle Zoo has no plans to vaccinate animals against COVID-19

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Courtesy of Utah’s Hogle Zoo

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – As the vaccine to combat COVID-19 continues to be widely available and distributed, a select group of Utah residents is holding out from getting inoculated.

However, their employers, who have greatly felt the effect of the pandemic since the beginning, aren’t concerned with their vaccine status as they’ve been monitoring their health and well-being extremely closely on a daily basis.

The Utahns passing on the vaccine for now; the animals at Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

Seeing news that other zoos around the country are working to vaccinate their animals, ABC4.com reached out to the Salt Lake City-based zoo to inquire and learned that as of now, getting vaccine doses to the collection of tigers, elephants, and other exotic animals is not anticipated to happen.

According to the zoo’s Director of Animal Health, Dr. Nancy Carpenter, the feeling is that it’s not needed thanks to the care staff’s diligence throughout the pandemic.

“Due to the efforts of the animal care staff at the zoo, the veterinarians feel that our animals are at a low risk to contract this virus,” Carpenter states.

While none of the animals at Hogle came down with COVID-19 over the last year and change, there were some reported cases elsewhere around the country.

Several big cats, including four tigers and three lions, at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, were diagnosed with COVID-19 in April 2020. While all of those animals eventually recovered, there was another case of a 17-year-old female tiger in a Swedish zoo that had to be euthanized due to concerns related to age and a low probability of recovery.

However, in Hogle’s case, since the animals managed to make it this far with no issues, they likely won’t be vaccinated unless things take a dramatic turn for the worse.

Of course, there were some pandemic-related issues at the zoo, which will be celebrating its 90th birthday in August. A few of the animal keepers did come down with COVID at various times throughout 2020, but zoo officials say those were “very isolated incidents.” Also, anyone working in proximity with the animals has worn a respirator to prevent any possible spreading of illness.

With a strong sense that the animals – and staff – are safe from a possible outbreak, the zoo has almost completely returned to full operation. On Tuesday, Hogle celebrated the first birthday of Georgia the gorilla, who according to the zoo, was the first successful lowland gorilla to be born at the facility in decades. Patrons were able to help the baby primate celebrate the occasion with cake and by coloring her birthday banner.

“We’re back to almost full capacity. We do have a limit, I think it’s somewhere around 8,000 or 8,500, something like that. We typically don’t hit that on a usual day, but it can get a little busy so we still have reservations,” said zoo spokesperson Jeff Meigs, who added that while the reservations can be helpful, especially in the morning hours, they aren’t completely necessary.

In addition to gorilla birthday parties, many of the zoo’s other calendar events are slated to return this summer. Breakfast with the Animals, a Saturday morning tradition, as well as Zoo Brew, an after-hours walk around the zoo for adults, complete with a large offering of craft beer products, are back in full force.

Naturally, the zoo is simply asking those who have not received a vaccine yet to remain wearing facial protection in the park, as per CDC guidelines. Meigs states that the zoo is operating on the honor system when asking unvaccinated guests to mask up and remain socially distanced, no need to show a vaccine card.

“If you’re vaccinated, great. If you’re not, then please take precautions,” Meigs recommends.

That goes for you too, Nikita, the polar bear.

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