18 gorillas in Atlanta zoo show COVID symptoms after delta exposure, may receive vaccines

A group of gorillas at Zoo Atlanta are in line to be vaccinated after they tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a public statement from zoo officials released Sunday.

The western lowland gorillas were seen coughing with running noses and a decreased appetite, prompting the initial testing. Nasal, oral and fecal samples were tested before the zoo received the initial results that the gorillas had been infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The delta variant was identified in at least one of the gorillas upon further testing. Twenty gorillas live in the zoo in four different groups. All are being tested – 18 are showing symptoms – and results are expected this week. Several of the gorillas are being treated with monoclonal antibodies, but the next step will be a vaccination specifically developed for animals, according to the zoo.

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“The teams are very closely monitoring the affected gorillas and are hopeful they will make a complete recovery," Sam Rivera, the senior director of Animal Health, said in a statement. "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.”

It is unclear how the gorillas became infected. The zoo said staff members who worked with the animals were fully vaccinated.

Experts have expressed concern over the past year about the coronavirus infecting gorillas, an endangered species that shares 98.4% of their DNA with humans and are inherently social animals.

This isn't the first time zoo animals have been affected by the virus. The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance said in March that a group of great apes received an experimental vaccine developed by the veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis. Then the Oakland Zoo administered Zoetis over the summer to its tigers, bears, mountain lions and ferrets.

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Zoo Atlanta said in a statement that it had already been authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Georgia’s state veterinarian to receive the Zoetis vaccine. As the gorillas recover, they also will receive the vaccine.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Atlanta zoo gorillas test COVID positive for delta, will get vaccine