SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Across the nation over the past month there have been reports of outbreaks of COVID-19, not just among humans, but among zoo animals as well.
In Atlanta, 90% of the zoo’s gorillas have tested positive. In Maryland, Michigan and Illinois zoos will vaccinate at risk animals against the virus with a vaccine made by Zoetis, which has been approved for use by the federal government.
In Sioux Falls, the Great Plains Zoo (GPZ) is in the midst of a suspected COVID-19 outbreak in their large cat facility, which has seen at least one confirmed positive case, as well as the death of a two-year-old Snow Leopard.
About an hour-and-a-half to the north of Sioux Falls however is a different zoo. The Bramble Park Zoo (BPZ) in Watertown is a small zoo, home to about 600 animals representing 130 species from around the world.
So far, the BPZ has been fortunate.
“We have not had any cases of COVID within any of the animals,” Bramble Park Zoo Director Dan Miller told KELOLAND News.
Miller says that despite the presence of the virus at the GPZ, he is not worried about an outbreak at Bramble Park.
“Not at this point,” he said. “We’ve been taking precautions — the masks and the gloves and staying away.”
Miller adds that it’s not just the big cats that they’re being cautious around either.
“Primates and Mustelids, which are like ferrets; they can also catch COVID,” he said. “There is a barrier from cats to the general public, which is pretty far away. We’re taking as many precautions as we can.”
Among those precautions is the use of gloves in addition to masks, as well as the use of bleach for cleaning purposes. When it comes to maintaining COVID-safe distance from the animals, Miller says that’s not really an issue.
Miller said that so far, the BPZ has not had to send any samples to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, for COVID testing, but that such action would be taken if there was reason for concern.
Miller tells us that the small size of the BPZ has been neither a challenge nor a benefit, as they must meet all the same standards as other zoos for their facility. One such standard is showcased by a newly-built facility.
“We just built a brand-new quarantine building so we could house cats and primates in two separate areas for ventilation,” said Miller.
Miller said a lot changed at the zoo over the course of the pandemic.
“Last year we didn’t have hardly anybody at the zoo. This year, everybody was at the zoo,” he said. “But we still take the precautions of staying six-feet away from people, and the protocols of keeping a safe distance from our animals.”
While some zoos around the nation are opting to vaccinate their animals, Miller says that such measures may not be necessary in Watertown.
“We want to look at it, and I want to see some more data on it and of course the veterinarian would make the final decision on that — but yes, potentially,” Miller said.
Miller said he is proud of his zoo’s handling of the pandemic.
“I think we’ve done an excellent job managing COVID,” he said, also highlighting his staff. “Our keeper staff here have ten or more years of experience.”
With a positive outlook in mind, Miller sees a bright future ahead and welcomes everyone out for the BPZ annual ZOO BOO event, coming up October 23.