Gorillas Test Positive For COVID-19 at San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Highlighting The Major Risks To Wild Gorillas

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Mother gorilla and its baby .Photo credit :San Diego Zoo Safari Park

It is with great concern that we share the news that several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have tested positive for SARS CoV-2 infection in what is believed to be the first known cases of natural transmission to non-human primates.
As early as April 2020, tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo in USA contracted COVID-19 from asymptomatic keepers, so we are not surprised that gorillas which are even more closely  related to humans could contract the disease in the same way.

The news shared in a press statement from San Diego Zoo Global and on ABC news and other media stations on 11th January 2021, indicates that eight captive gorillas that live together at the Zoo are believed to have the virus where three of them were diagnosed positive for COVID-19 through fecal sample analysis and some of them  have developed mild respiratory  symptoms including coughing and congestion.
The gorillas are undergoing fluid therapy, which is being administered with vitamins and are being quarantined together as a social group, from other animals at the zoological park.  The infection is suspected to have come from a member of the park’s wildlife care team who also tested positive for COVID-19, but has been asymptomatic and wore a mask at all times around the gorillas.

Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) and its partners have been raising concern about the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to gorillas from humans who interact with them both inside and outside the national park since the onset of the pandemic. For endangered and critically endangered gorilla species which live in close-knit family groups, the risks of COVID-19 infection are enormous, with the potential to completely wipe out family groups or sub-species.

This news brings confirmation that gorillas are indeed susceptible to the SARS CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. To date, CTPH has been prioritizing efforts to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 infection both amongst people in the communities surrounding mountain gorilla habitats, and from humans to gorillas. We have led a number of trainings and sensitization sessions on measures to prevent the risk of infection spread and have supported the adoption of COVID-19 prevention protocols developed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority for all people coming into contact with the mountain gorillas in and around Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks. Measures include consistent and effective mask use, hand sanitizing and disinfection of hiking boots, temperature checks of people entering the gorilla habitat and ensuring a minimum distance of 10 meters when viewing or monitoring the gorillas.

CTPH is supporting the Uganda Wildlife Authority to test mountain gorillas for SARS CoV-2 through non-invasive fecal sample collection, to enable an early warning system should cross-over infection occur. Your generous support will enable us to continue this work.

We wish the infected gorillas at San Diego Zoo Safari Park a speedy recovery and extend our thanks to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park management for their plans to share what they learn through this experience with health and veterinary officials, conservationists and scientists to improve our efforts to protect wild gorillas here in Uganda and across Africa.

To our readers too, we wish for you the best health as we all continue to tackle this global pandemic.

We would like to thank you very much for all your support towards our efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the endangered mountain gorillas of Uganda.


Happy and safe New Year!

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka
Founder and CEO, Conservation Through Public Health

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