It's every animal lover's worst nightmare, but unfortunately, the numbers are simply undeniable. Animals, primarily in zoo settings, are catching the Coronavirus at alarming rates. Recent animals to join the unfortunate statistic include Ngozi and Kibo, two hyenas in their early twenties who reside at the Denver Zoo in Colorado. Their cough, weakness, and runny noses were immediately noticed by caretaker staff, who took the necessary steps to get the grim diagnosis. And so, they became the first recorded hyenas in the world to have contracted the virus. And unfortunately, they're far from alone. Nearly two years into the pandemic and many other zoo creatures around the United States have fallen ill to the raging virus. According to National Geographic, other unfortunate mammals included a bearcat, fishing cat, and two hippos - all firsts of their kind.
All in all, these recent cases that worried zookeepers this fall brought the numbers up to 315 animals in the United States to have contracted SARS-CoV-2 across 15 species. Everything from deer, gorillas, lions, tigers, cats, and dogs are included in the list. However, not documented is the surge in cases at mink fur farms, National Geographic noted. But what researchers are most focused on are the trends between animals infected - is there a connection?
An overarching theme with COVID-positive animals is that they're primarily carnivorans, however as the University of Pennsylvania's Elizabeth Lennon explained, there simply isn't enough data to firmly state that carnivorans are more susceptible to the virus. But the same can't be said about big cats. The United States Department of Agriculture found that 90 have been found positive since the virus first broke out in 2020. "I think that if you look at the big picture in all of the zoos, you can confidently say there is some increased susceptibility to clinical disease in large fields," Elizabeth explained.
However, researchers have their eyes set on the positives in the situation, and there are some. By far, animals don't seem to suffer from COVID-19 to the same degree that humans do. Plus, in zoos, it's much easier to track the disease than in the wild. All in all, there is still a sliver of hope. Stay tuned for more updates on this developing story.