Tiger at Great Plains Zoo tests positive for COVID-19

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A zoo animal in Sioux Falls tested positive for COVID-19.

Staff at the Great Plains Zoo noticed the Amur Tiger Keesa was coughing and lethargic last week. Other big cats, including two tigers and a pair of snow leopards have also shown COVID-19 symptoms.

All are being tested, and they’ve been taken off exhibit for care and observation.

Great Plains Zoo veterinarian Louden Wright says most of the cats are starting to recover.

“Our leopards are still pretty early in the disease course, so it’s hard to say how they’re going to do. Most large cats that have been infected with this virus have done well and have recovered, but it certainly is a deadly virus and there’s not a lot of information about what it does in these large cats,” Great Plains Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Louden Wright said.

“All of our animal keepers as well as the management team and the veterinarian staff, they’re very well-prepared to handle quite astutely,” Great Plains Zoo CEO, Becky Dewitz, said.

It’s unknown exactly how Keesa the tiger was infected.

The Great Plains Zoo says staff always wear personal protective equipment when they’re working with COVID-19 susceptible animals. That includes the big cats.

“I think the most likely scenario for these guys is probably someone who was asymptomatic unfortunately passed the virus to these cats,” Wright said.

Wright wasn’t terribly surprised by the positive test.

Other zoos in the country have also reported COVID-19 infections in big cats.

“It’s certainly something that we were on the watch for,” Wright said.

And now he says they’re giving the cats the best care possible.

A vaccine was recently approved by the USDA. Once the Great Plains Zoo receives the vaccine, susceptible animals will be vaccinated.

The zoo says COVID transmission from cats to people has not been shown to occur.


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