Snow leopard at Louisville Zoo tests positive for coronavirus

Coronavirus Watch Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WEHT) – Another big cat has tested positive for the virus responsible for COVID-19 in humans. NeeCee is a five-year-old female snow leopard at the Louisville Zoo.

The zoo is still waiting on results of the two male snow leopards, Kimti and Meru. All three cats are reportedly doing well with very mild symptoms. They are expected to recover.

The zoo has no other animals showing symptoms at this time.

Zoo staff are continuing to follow the CDC’s COVID-19 safety protocols. The snow leopards are off exhibit while NeeCee recovers and while the zoo awaits confirmatory results on the other two.

Based on current knowledge, the risk of infected animals spreading the virus to humans is considered low. COVID-19 remains predominantly a disease transmitted from person to person.

All three snow leopards began exhibiting minor symptoms within the last two weeks. NeeCee is believed to have acquired the infection from an asymptomatic staff member, despite the zoo’s precautions. Zookeepers that work with cats, primates, bats, and ferrets have been wearing PPE when near the animals since April, and all zoo staff go through a health screening at the start of their day.

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. The zoo will continue to closely monitor the snow leopards for ongoing symptoms and retest them to identify when they are no longer infected.

This is the first confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2 infection in a snow leopard.

In April, 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. As recently as this week, a Zoo in Spain reported four lions testing positive.

The USDA keeps a list of confirmed cases in animals. In both Kentucky and Illinois, there has been one confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2 in a domestic cat. For more information on how to prevent COVID-19 in people and animals, visit the CDC webpage.

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(This story was originally published on December 11, 2020)

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