CINCINNATI — Dealing with a gorilla or a large jungle cat is difficult enough. Imagine giving it vaccine shots for COVID-19.
This is the workload veterinary technicians and keepers have taken on the last six weeks as they've vaccinated 80 animals at the Cincinnati Zoo. While cases of COVID-19 spreading to animals have been extremely rare, there have been some exceptions to the rule. With some animals at other zoos testing positive, the Cincinnati Zoo put a program in place to vaccinate its animals.
"There are some species that are susceptible to the disease," Cincinnati Zoo veterinary technician Janell Duvall told WCPO on Tuesday. "I know there haven't been cases at the Cincinnati Zoo, but there have been some animals that have tested positive at other institutions. We wanted to get a handle on it and get ahead of it and protect our animals."
Scientists have studied animals and COVID-19 since the pandemic began in 2020. Duvall said primates are susceptible to COVID-19, as well as giraffes, and larger cats like lions, snow leopards and cougars.
In a press release sent Monday, the zoo said the vaccination plan was added in addition to the regular duties of handlers and veterinary technicians. Duvall said she and the zoo's other vet techs started accompanying handlers when feeding and spending time with animals. The process began in the middle of the summer, and like humans it meant giving animals two doses of the vaccine.
"(We) started working alongside the keepers since probably June or July," Duvall said. "It's a lot to ask from any animal. Sometimes once or twice daily we would work with whatever animals we were focusing on and build relationships. We have to build a relationship with them. That's the biggest task."
The press release said the zoo didn't have any incidents while it completed its vaccine program. Vet techs would enter pens, enclosures and other habitats with keepers, then moved on to entering them with a syringe before actually administering shots.
"We kind of figure what their favorite treat is and make the experience positive," Duvall said. "Something I keep in my head is this isn't like a dog or a cat, it's a wild animal. I do my best to make sure everyone is safe."