Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive for COVID-19. According to the AP, these are probably the first known cases among primates in the United States and the world.
A press release from San Diego Zoo Global states that two gorillas were coughing last week. Due to the virus's precarious nature, keepers collected fecal samples from the gorillas to test through the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System. The initial test detected the virus's presence, which was then confirmed this past Monday by the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory. While not all of the gorillas were tested, the press release states that the SARS-CoV-2 virus might be present in troop other members as well.
According to the press release, although staff members have been following all recommended protocols to prevent virus transmission, it is likely that the gorillas became infected from an asymptomatic staff member. According to the AP, the park has been closed since early December as part of California's lockdown efforts. The press release states that non-human primates are susceptible to this particular virus, but this is the first documented instance of natural transmission.
Lisa Peters, the executive director of the Safari Park, stated, "Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well. The troop remains quarantined together and are eating and drinking. We are hopeful for a full recovery." The AP reports that the gorillas are being treated with vitamins, fluid, and food, but no specific virus treatment.
Science Magazine reports that human respiratory viruses are the leading cause of death in several chimp communities in the wild, causing 20% of deaths in mountain gorillas in Africa. According to Science Magazine, "the ape form of the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptor that the virus uses to enter cells is identical to the human one." The article also states that researchers in the wild are taking steps to protect endangered great apes in Africa and Asia.
Tony Goldberg, disease ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, stated to Science Magazine, "The fact that gorillas are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 should come as no surprise. Fortunately, gorillas at zoos have excellent medical care, and most will likely pull through due to the efforts of dedicated veterinarians. That's not the case for gorillas in the wild, though." He continues that because wild apes cannot social distance, it is crucial to keep the virus out of these populations.