Team members were alerted to the possibility of infection when they witnessed coughing, nasal discharge, and changes in appetite present in several gorillas.
Upon collecting fecal, nasal, and oral swab samples, test results came back positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Zoo officials say they’re unsure how the mammals were infected, but believe contamination may have been caused by a COVID-positive animal care team member. The team member in question was fully vaccinated, wearing a mask and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during interactions with the gorillas, officials say.
The infected gorillas who are at a higher risk of complications due to COVID-19 will be treated with monoclonal antibodies.
Zoo team members will be vaccinating animals in their care with the Zoetis vaccine, which is made specifically for animals to protect against COVID-19. The infected gorillas will also receive the vaccine when they recover, officials say.
“The teams are very closely monitoring the affected gorillas and are hopeful they will make a complete recovery,” said Sam Rivera, DVM, Senior Director of Animal Health. “They are receiving the best possible care, and we are prepared to provide additional supportive care should it become necessary. We are very concerned that these infections occurred, especially given that our safety protocols when working with great apes and other susceptible animal species are, and throughout the pandemic have been, extremely rigorous.”
Officials say wearing PPE, face coverings, and maintaining safety protocols was already standard practice at Zoo Atlanta due to gorillas’ susceptibility of experiencing human illnesses such as the common cold and influenza.