On January 11, 2021, gorillas at the San Diego Zoo in California tested positive for Covid-19. “Apart from a slight congestion and cough, gorillas are fine.“, assured the staff in a statement. Probably contaminated by an asymptomatic healer but also tested positive for the coronavirus, the primates were cured without any specific treatment being administered.” They are wild animals, they have their own resistance and can heal differently than we do, “said Lisa Peterson, executive director of San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
It was then the first known case of transmission of the virus to great apes. A not so surprising situation, the gorilla sharing 98.4% of our genetic heritage. A percentage that makes it all the more vulnerable to human diseases.
A few weeks after the contamination of the great apes, the Zoo Safari Park indicated on Twitter that some of their residents had received an injection of a vaccine against Covid-19, specially developed for animals. They are the first non-human primates to receive the vaccine.
The first non-human primates to receive the Covid-19 vaccine
So far, five bonobos and four orangutans have each received the two doses of the vaccine, produced by the international animal health company Zoetis. Among the beneficiaries, the zoo has chosen to give priority to Karen, a female orangutan suffering from co-morbidities. In 1994, she became the first non-human primate to undergo open heart surgery.
If the great apes of the San Diego Zoo tested positive in January are now cured, “it is not known whether the primates can develop serious reactions”, the Zoo had at the time underlined in its press release. The long-term sequelae of such a disease are also unknown.
Considered an endangered species, the gorilla has seen its population decline sharply in recent decades. Among the reasons mentioned, poaching, the destruction of its habitat, but also diseases. In Africa, chimpanzees and gorillas have already been severely impacted by the Ebola virus.
⋙ Gorillas threatened by the coronavirus?
⋙ Coronavirus: in zoos, beware of gorillas!
⋙ Some 60% of primates threatened with extinction