Ames USDA Lab Confirms Bronx Zoo Tiger Tests Positive for COVID-19


Update, 4/5: Since the Informer (and many other news outlets) covered this story earlier today, a number of readers have questioned why a COVID-19 test was made available for a tiger when there is such a shortage of tests available for people that many in Iowa and around the country have described attempting to see if they contracted the virus only to be turned away. On Facebook, the Bronx Zoo posted a explanation for why the test performed on the tiger did not take away the ability for a person to get it instead: “From Dr. Paul Calle, Bronx Zoo chief veterinarian: ‘The COVID-19 testing that was performed on our Malayan tiger Nadia was performed in a veterinary school laboratory and is not the same test as is used for people. You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations.'”

Original post: A 4-year-old tiger who lives at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, has contracted the virus after a positive test was confirmed by the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, the nonprofit that operates the zoo, reported the news in a press release Sunday. The Malayan tiger, Nadia, along with her sister, two Amur tigers, and three African lions all “developed a dry cough” and “experienced some decrease in appetite” but “all are expected to recover,” according to the press release.

According to the New York Times, Nadia is believed to have contracted the virus from a zoo employee. The US Department of Agriculture said in a statement that it was “the first instance of a tiger being infected with COVID-19.” The statement added that people infected with the coronavirus should avoid contact with their pets as well as other animals “out of an abundance of caution.” The tiger was the only animal tested at the zoo.

None of the other felines at the zoo exhibited symptoms, according to the WCS press release. “Our cats were infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms,” it said. “Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats.”

Aside from the initial transmission of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, which is believed to have come from a bat, there “is no evidence that animals play a role in the transmission of COVID-19 to people,” the press release said, “and no evidence that any person has been infected with COVID-19 in the US by animals, including by pet dogs or cats.”

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.