The two hippos Imani and Hermien of ZOO Antwerp have tested positive for Covid-19, according to a press release.
“Both animals, apart from a runny nose, show no other symptoms and are doing well,” the ZOO says. “The animals are in isolation and the keepers are taking even stricter safety measures.”
The cause of the infection is not known. ZOO Antwerp says none of the keepers have recently contracted the disease, nor have any staff members shown any symptoms.
They acknowledged the possibility of someone contracting the virus asymptomatically and unknowingly transmitting it to the animals, but noted this would be impossible to determine.
“They were coughing up some snot, which I tested for bacteria as a precaution,” explained veterinarian Francis, who first detected the symptoms.
“The result was negative. But given the news, I took the extra step of also having the samples tested for COVID-19, with this exceptional result. To my knowledge, this is the first time in this species. Worldwide, this virus has been reported mainly in great apes and felines.”
Keepers now wear extra protective gear, do a daily rapid test and follow the established coronavirus protocol: as soon as any employee shows symptoms, they go into home quarantine and take a PCR test.
The hippo building was immediately closed to visitors and safety measures for keepers were tightened. In addition to wearing face masks and disinfecting their shoes, they now also wear safety goggles when in contact with the animals and avoid contact with other carers and animals.
Hippos Hermien (41 years old) and Imani (14.5 years old) show no other signs of illness but are closely monitored by their carers.
Last year all mammals in Antwerp Zoo were tested for the coronavirus in collaboration with the University of Antwerp and no COVID-19 was detected in the zoo.