Snow Leopards Started Wheezing, Coughing. Now, Confirmation

At Lousville Zoo in Kentucky, 3 big cats test positive for COVID
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2020 7:30 AM CST
Latest to Get Hit by COVID: 3 Big Cats
A snow leopard looks out from its enclosure at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb., on May 17, 2019.   (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Three snow leopards in a Kentucky zoo have come down with COVID-19, making it the latest type of animal to get sick after coming into close contact with humans. Per a filmed statement from Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak and a written statement from the zoo, zoo staff noticed within the past two weeks that female leopard NeeCee and male leopards Kimti and Meru were exhibiting respiratory issues, including occasional wheezing and dry coughs. Samples were immediately sent out for testing, and all three came back positive for the coronavirus. CNN notes that, with the snow leopards, this makes at least six animal species that have come down with the illness. Others include tigers and lions at New York City's Bronx Zoo, a handful of dogs and cats, and minks in Denmark.

Walczak says the cats' symptoms are "very mild." So how did the leopards contract the virus in the first place? The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service speculates that, "despite precautions taken by the zoo," it was from a staff member who was infected but not showing symptoms, per CNN. The good news is that all three leopards are expected to recover, Walczak notes, adding that no other animals at the zoo are showing symptoms of the virus. Although it doesn't seem likely that the virus can be transmitted back from the big cats to humans, all three leopards have been taken off exhibit until they recover, the zoo says. (Read more snow leopards stories.)

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