December 14 (Independent) – A snow leopard in Kentucky has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 in humans.
Two other snow leopards are being tested for the disease at Louisville zoo after the three cats began suffering minor respiratory symptoms.
The three snow leopards – including NeeCee, who has tested positive – each exhibited an occasional dry cough or wheeze within the last two weeks.
It is suspected that NeeCee contracted the infection from an asymptomatic staff member, despite precautions in place at the zoo. The snow leopards were tested for SARS-CoV-2 with approval by state officials from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department for Public Health.
The cats’ faeces was tested so they did not have to be anaesthetised to undergo an invasive diagnostic test.
All three cats are in good health with very mild symptoms, said the zoo, which continues to monitor them closely. It added it expected improvement in the coming days, and all three cats are expected to recover. No other animals are showing symptoms.
Current understanding of the virus suggests that the risk of infection from an animal, such as a snow leopard, to a human is low.
“Fortunately, based on clinical cases in large cats at other zoos in the country to this point, SARS-CoV-2 infection does not appear to be life-threatening,” said a senior staff veterinarian Dr Zoli Gyimesi. “We will be closely monitoring the snow leopards for ongoing symptoms and resampling them to identify when they have cleared the infection.”
This is the first confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2 infection in a snow leopard.
However, it is not the first case of a big cat testing positive for the virus. In April 2020, four tigers and three lions were confirmed positive at an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) zoo in New York. An additional three tigers at an AZA zoo in Tennessee were confirmed to be infected this fall. In all cases, the animals recovered.
This week, a zoo in Spain reported four lions testing positive for the virus.