Lions and tigers at Smithsonian National Zoo test presumptive positive for COVID-19


To address the 9 lions and tigers showing signs of SARS-CoV-2, zoo officials are monitoring the cats closely by managing their access to the outdoor habitats, providing anti-inflammatories and anti-nausea treatment medication, and much more.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute

Officials at the Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, DC, announced 6 African lions, 2 Amur tigers, and 1 Sumatran tiger have tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2.

According to an organizational release, animal keepers began noticing decreased appetite, lethargy, sneezing, and coughing from several lions and tigers. The staff opted to collect fecal samples from the 9 animals which tested presumptive positive for COVID-19. Final results are expected over the next few days.

To tackle the discomfort and decreased appetite, all lions and tigers are currently being treated with anti-inflammatories and anti-nausea medication along with antibiotics for presumptive secondary bacterial pneumonia.

Since the condition does not require the animals to remain outdoors, the staff will keep them under close observation and regulate the cats' access to their habitats. Given the substantial distance between the animals and visitors, the public is not at risk. As of now, no other animals at the Zoo are showing any signs of infection.

The zoo launched an investigation of all staff members that were near the lions and tigers, and according to the release, "there is no evidence to pinpoint the source of the infection." While there is a possibility that the infection was transmitted by an asymptomatic carrier, it is routine for all animal care staff and essential staff to wear masks indoors in all public and nonpublic spaces.

Although the US Department of Agriculture authorized the use of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine made specifically for zoo animals by Zoetis, the first round of vaccine disbursement will be administered to select animals susceptible to the virus at both the Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia within the next few months when it becomes available. All Zoo personnel is continuing to strictly enforce their COVID-19 protocols.


Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. Great cats tested presumptive positive for COVID-19 at the Smithsonian’s national zoo. Published September 17, 2021. Accessed September 21, 2021.

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