A troop of gorillas at San Diego Zoo Safari Park appears to be recovering from coronavirus, including a 49-year-old silverback who received antibody therapy.
The western lowland gorillas were infected with a variant that has been circulating in California and is believed to be more contagious than other strains, the safari park says.
Some gorillas showed symptoms including mild coughing, congestion and intermittent lethargy.
The silverback, named Winston, had pneumonia, likely to have been caused by the virus, as well as heart disease, San Diego Zoo Safari Park said.
He has been more active since being put on antibiotics and heart medication, and receiving an antibody treatment – a therapy to block the virus from infecting cells.
“We’re not seeing any of that lethargy. No coughing, no runny noses any more,” park executive director Lisa Peterson told the San Diego Union-Tribune, adding the animals’ faecal matter was no longer testing positive for the virus.
“It feels to us like we’ve turned the corner.”
Officials tested the troop of gorillas after two apes began coughing on January 6.
Positive test results were confirmed by the US Department of Agriculture National Veterinary Services Laboratories in three gorillas.
The apes were likely to have been exposed by a zookeeper who tested positive for COVID-19 in early January, officials said.
The park has been closed to the public as part of California’s lockdown efforts to curb coronavirus cases, and the park’s wildlife care team wore masks at all times around the gorillas. The zoo will reopen on Saturday.
Veterinarians are preparing to inject gorillas at San Diego Zoo with a COVID-19 vaccine, a supply made specifically for animals.
They also plan to vaccinate other species believed susceptible to infection, such as felines.
Wildlife in other locations – from minks to tigers – have had the virus.
The gorillas at the safari park will not be vaccinated for now since they have been exposed.
San Diego Zoo Global, which oversees the zoo and the safari park, plans to share what it has learned with other scientists with the hope it will contribute to the understanding of how the virus can affect apes.