COVID-19 cases among San Diego gorillas have keepers at Calgary Zoo watching animals ‘like a hawk’

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WATCH: Keepers at zoos across Canada are on alert after news of COVID-19 cases among gorillas at the San Diego Zoo. Gil Tucker reports on what the Calgary Zoo is doing to keep gorillas and other animals safe. – Jan 12, 2021

News that eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are believed to have tested positive for the coronavirus has keepers at Canadian zoos on the lookout for the virus among animals in their care.

“We know that primates are very susceptible, because we share so many viruses and bacterial infections with primates — we’re very closely related.” the Calgary Zoo’s head of veterinary services, Dr. Sandie Black, said.

Read more: Gorillas at San Diego park test positive for coronavirus

Black says when the pandemic began in March of 2020 zookeepers began reinforcing already existing biosecurity measures when caring for gorillas and other animals vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“We have dedicated uniforms, we have dedicated footwear, that does not leave the zoo,” Black said. “We have foot baths, in and out of sensitive areas. We have limited staff in and out, wearing the surgical-grade masks and a face shield.”

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The closure of indoor animal areas to the public during the pandemic provides a further layer of protection.

Read more: ‘A Perfect Planet’: David Attenborough talks narrating nature series amid COVID-19 lockdown

“So that was all in place before San Diego broke, but it doesn’t mean I’m not worried,” Black said.

“We are watching it like a hawk.”

The Calgary Zoo is also taking precautions with its outdoor animals vulnerable to the coronavirus, such as lions and tigers.

“In the big cat area that’s meant putting barriers, so (visitors) stand back a minimum two metres, if not three,” Black said. “Where normally people could look at them through mesh — there’s no air contact there now.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Toronto Zoo taking precautions after N.Y. tiger tests positive for COVID-19

Keepers are also keeping a very close watch on Yewande, a 12-year-old gorilla pregnant with her first baby, which is due in early May.

“She would be, and her offspring will be, probably our most sensitive individuals,” Black said, adding that there are currently no plans to isolate Yewande.

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“The best place for her is with her family,” Black said. “She’s the least stressed, she will be the healthiest and have the best immune system with her family, so we need to make sure that that entire group to the best of our ability never sees a COVID virus.”