San Diego Zoo confirms two Gorillas have contracted COVID-19

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – KUSI has confirmed from sources at the San Diego Zoo, that the oldest Gorilla’s at the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, 48-year-old Winston, a critically endangered Western Lowland Gorilla, has tested positive for COVID-19.

San Diego Zoo Global has now announced that a second gorilla has also tested positive for COVID-19.

“Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” said Lisa Peterson, executive director, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking. We are hopeful for a full recovery.”

San Diego Zoo Global reports that, “it is suspected the gorillas acquired the infection from an asymptomatic staff member, despite following all recommended precautions including COVID-19 safety protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and San Diego County Public Health as well as wearing PPE when near the gorillas. Research studies have verified that some non-human primates are susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2, but this is the first known instance of natural transmission to great apes and it is unknown if they will have any serious reaction.”

According to sources, Winston will undergo a specially approved treatment on Tuesday that is expected to last a couple of days.

KUSI was told that this is the first human-to-primate transfer of the coronavirus globally.

Gov. Gavin Newsom discussed the gorillas in his press briefing Monday.

“We are currently confirming the source of infection and the strain. There’s some question — did it come human-to-animal — that’s being determined,” he said. “Nonetheless it’s just an area that’s long been of concern, human-to-animal transmission. Our beloved gorillas, obviously, we are concerned about.”

Newsom said the San Diego Zoo was the “best of the best” to handle the situation.

According to a San Diego Zoo Global statement, studies have verified that some non-human primates are susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2, but this is the first known instance of natural transmission to great apes and it is unknown if they will have any serious reaction.

“For almost one year our team members have been working tirelessly, with the utmost determination to protect each other and the wildlife in our care from this highly contagious virus,” Peterson said. “The safety of our staff and the wildlife in our care remains our number one priority.”

San Diego Zoo Global has biosecurity measures in place to protect wildlife in its care and has previously protected its wildlife populations from emerging disease threats in the community such as Newcastle’s Disease and West Nile Virus.

Winston arrived at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 1984, and is considered one of the oldest breeding male gorillas in a managed care setting.

This is a developing story and KUSI News will update this article as more information is confirmed.

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