Three “beloved” snow leopards living in a Nebraska zoo have died of COVID-19, about a month after testing positive for the virus.
“Our leopards, Ranney, Everest, and Makalu, were beloved by our entire community inside and outside of the zoo,” Lincoln Children’s Zoo said in a press release Friday. For years, the three cats were zoo favorites, known for their bubbly and silly demeanors—even playing with pumpkins on Halloween, the Washington Post reported.
Last month, the zoo announced the three leopards and two tigers, Axl and Kumar, contracted the virus that causes COVID-19. At the time, all animals were expected to make a full recovery. The zoo said the animals displayed symptoms common to the virus so were tested.
The tigers have recovered, according to zoo staff.
Snow leopards are considered “vulnerable” to extinction; there are only between 4,500 and 6,000 globally.
The zoo conducted an investigation to determine the cause of infection, but was unable to pinpoint the source.
“It is possible that the infection can be spread by an asymptomatic carrier,” the zoo said, adding that precautions were taken to maintain distance between the sick animals and other animals and people.
“The public is not, nor has been, at any risk,” staff said. The zoo remains open with COVID-19 protocols in place.
So far there have been no confirmed reports of humans contracting the virus from pets. But according to the Cornell Feline Health Centre, cats, including house cats, may be susceptible to contracting the virus from people and from other cats. (The first reported cases of the virus in pets in the U.S. occurred in domestic cats.) Cats also appear more at risk than dogs.
Several zoos have grappled with their own COVID-19 outbreaks, including at the National Zoo in Washington where six African lions, two Amur tigers, and a Sumatran tiger tested positive for the virus in September after coughing, sneezing, and displaying lethargic behaviour. The latest reports say the animals at the National Zoo recovered well.
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