Zoo tests experimental coronavirus vaccine on lions, tigers and orang-utan

Zoo tests experimental coronavirus vaccine on lions, tigers and orang-utan
Screen capture of a video. Credit: Buin zoo.

A zoo in the Chilean capital Santiago has vaccinated various of its most endangered and vulnerable animals against the coronavirus using the experimental vaccine from US manufacturer Zoetis.

The experimental vaccine uniquely formulated for animals, which was already being used in some 80 zoos in the United States, has now been given to the ten most vulnerable animals at the Buin zoo, including lions, tigers, pumas and an orangutan, according to park director Ignacio Idalsoaga.

He added that he hopes that the experimental vaccine, that was donated by global animal health company Zoetis, can soon be produced on a large scale so that “all animals in the parks can be protected”.

Zookeepers administer the vaccines through the fence in the animals’ enclosures while another zoo worker feeds the animal to distract them, as shown in a video shared by the zoo.


The vaccine has been authorised for experimental use on a case by case basis by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the appropriate state veterinarians.

Although the virus – or antigen – is the same as in human vaccines, vaccines for animals vary based on the carrier – or adjuvant – that is used.

Protecting animals from virus

An increasing number of zoos across the world are concerned about the effects of the coronavirus on their animals and are implementing various measures, including more barriers, social distancing and now also animal-specific vaccines.

Earlier this month, two hippos at ZOO Antwerp tested positive for Covid-19, and although they weren’t showing symptoms apart from a runny nose, they were isolated and their keepers started taking even stricter measures.

ZOO Antwerp said it was unclear where they had contracted the virus, as none of the keepers had recently contracted the disease, and that none of the staff members showed any symptoms.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time in this species. Worldwide, this virus has been reported mainly in great apes and felines,” veterinarian Francis, who first detected the symptoms, said. A lioness also tested positive in recent days at Pairi Daiza.

Two hyenas at the Denver zoo tested positive for Covid-19 in November, the first confirmed cases among the animals worldwide, while three snow leopards died in an American zoo after being infected with the coronavirus last month.

According to the USDA, scientists are still learning about coronavirus infections in animals, but based on the information that is currently available, the risk of animal-to-human transmission in zoos was low.

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