Dakota Zoo takes steps to vaccinate snow leopards against coronavirus

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 8:44 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Zoos across the country have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 in animals. Last week, 11 African lions tested positive and showed symptoms for the virus at the Denver Zoo, as did three tigers at the San Diego Zoo.

Nearly 80 zoos across the U.S. are looking to immunize some animals with a coronavirus vaccine developed by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis. Now at Bismarck’s Dakota Zoo, some animals could be in line to get the shot.

Several orders of animals are susceptible to coronavirus like carnivoras (including big cats) and primates. Some snow leopards have died from the disease.

“Snow leopards are highly endangered. We’re one of the few breeding facilities in the country. We currently have two males. Two young males from this year. It was our first litter born at the zoo. It was pretty exciting for us. So, we certainly don’t want some disease like COVID to mess that up,” said Terry Lincoln, Bismarck Zoo director.

The zoo has taken extra safety measures since the pandemic began.

“Early on we moved back our primate guard rails to create a little bit more space, a little bit more distance,” added Lincoln.

Now, they’ve applied to have Dakota zoo’s snow leopards vaccinated.

“We’re watching and adapting as science tells us we should,” said Lincoln.

Vaccinating these cats will take some time, as the zoo still needs approval from the state veterinarian.

“We assess the disease risk in that species and any risk of the product that is known, and then balance that with the potential risk of not giving the vaccination, or what the loss could be,” said Dr. Beth Carlson, deputy state veterinarian with the Animal Health Division of the ND Department of Agriculture and the State Board of Animal Health.

Keepers move through the zoo regularly delivering medical care to animals, which they say takes creativity and a food-based bribe. The plan for the snow leopards is simple:

“They turn sideways. Then as one person gives them tidbits, another will casually and calmly vaccinate them,” said Lincoln.

Keepers say they are waiting for expert direction to make a plan to vaccinate other animals.

Animal coronavirus vaccines have been around since the 1950′s which gave research on the latest animal COVID-19 vaccine a running start.

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