A Kentucky snow leopard has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 in humans.
Two more snow leopards are being tested for the disease at the Louisville Zoo after the three cats start to suffer from minor respiratory symptoms.
All three snow leopards – including NeeCee, who tested positive – each exhibited a dry cough or occasional wheezing in the past two weeks.
It is suspected that NeeCee contracted the infection from an asymptomatic staff member, despite the precautions in place at the zoo. Snow leopards have been tested for SARS-CoV-2 with the approval of state officials from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Public Health.
The cats’ feces have been tested so that they do not need to be anesthetized to undergo an invasive diagnostic test.
All three cats are healthy with very mild symptoms, said the zoo, which continues to monitor them closely. He added that he expected improvement in the next few days and that all three cats should recover. No other animal shows symptoms.
Current understanding of the virus suggests that the risk of infecting an animal, such as a snow leopard, to a human is low.
“Fortunately, based on clinical cases in large cats in other zoos across the country at this point, infection with SARS-CoV-2 does not appear to be life threatening,” said a senior veterinarian, Dr Zoli Gyimesi. “We will be monitoring the snow leopards closely for persistent symptoms and resample them to identify when they have cleared the infection.”
This is the first confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2 infection in a snow leopard.
This week, a zoo in Spain reported four lions testing positive for the virus.