Written by Hannah Schmidtler
Two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo have tested positive for Covid-19 after displaying mild symptoms. The diagnosis was confirmed after testing the gorilla’s fecal matter and discovering RNA that relates to Covid. This is the first known case of captive primates becoming infected with the virus. The fact that primates are susceptible to Covid-19 worries primatologists since human respiratory disease is already the leading cause of death among primates. It accounts for 20% of deaths in the mountain gorilla population alone.
The gorillas at the San Diego Zoo are believed to have contracted the virus from an asymptomatic zookeeper, despite precautions taken such as wearing masks and frequent hand washing. Lisa Peterson, executive director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, wrote in a press release, “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.”
There is no specific treatment for Covid-19 in gorillas. They are currently being treated by veterinarians with vitamins and fluids. In case their symptoms worsen, veterinarians have been consulting with Covid-19 doctors hoping that the similarities between humans and gorillas will allow treatment to cross over.
Primatologist Tara Stoinski at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund hopes that this situation can be used as an opportunity to learn more about respiratory diseases in apes in order to better protect endangered wild apes. “Hopefully, these cases can provide some very valuable information on how gorillas respond to this virus so we can better understand the risk it poses to wild ape populations.”