WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – As the push to get more people vaccinated continues, there is also an ongoing effort at zoos across the country to get certain animals immunized so they can stay safe from COVID-19.
At the North Carolina Zoo, dozens of animals are now protected against COVID-19.
Dr. Jb Minter, the Director of Animal Health and director of the Hanes Veterinary Medical Center at the North Carolina Zoo, said the vaccinations are a result of a donation from Zoetis, an animal health company that develops vaccines and medications.
“We started to realize the animals we care for here on a daily basis are susceptible to this disease so it was a concern because at that moment in time we didn’t know there was going to be a vaccine available but in the background Zoetis, a company that designs vaccines and other medications for animals, was working on a vaccine,” he said. “The reason they were working on a vaccine is due to the number of mink that had developed the virus when the virus was really first kicking off. When San Diego’s gorillas developed the virus, Zoetis just donated a portion of the vaccine to the animals for their other great apes that did not test positive.”
Minter said after that, zoos across the country, including the North Carolina Zoo, contacted Zoetis about getting donations for the company’s experimental animal vaccine.
Approximately 60 doses were sent to the North Carolina Zoo, enough to vaccinate 32 animals.
Animals got their first doses in October, with a second dose three weeks later.
“We chose those animals considering what would be high priority,” he said. “High priority were the great apes, our closest relatives, we share 98% of the same DNA. So, we assumed they were going to be very susceptible and we already have seen clinical signs.”
Handlers also vaccinated large cats, including lions and tigers.
“Our animals were being trained to come up and accept the vaccine,” explained Minter. “No one had to be darted. Nobody had to be physically restrained. They came up showed their arm and we were able to give the vaccine.”
Following the first shot, six out of 32 animals showed signs of sore arms.
“The keepers are very astute to these minor changes and honestly, what we noticed after the first vaccine is we had two chimpanzees and four baboons that were showing a little tenderness in their arms,” he said. “The animals will come up and present their arm or leg to you and they were like, ‘Oh, look this hurts’ and you touch it and then they wince a little bit because it was a little bit sensitive but nobody showed clinical signs of being lethargic, achy and uncomfortable.”
He said there were no signs of side effects after the second dose.
While Minter was not worried about zoo visitors passing the virus on to the animals, there is concern that the zoo workers might because they work in close proximity to the animals. He said having some of the animals vaccinated is a relief, given that animals at other zoos have died from COVID-19.
Three snow leopards at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska died from complications of COVID-19 earlier this month.
“You can’t put a price on a lot of these animals that we have here,” he said. “They are endangered so we are providing the best level of protection we can.”
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