World's oldest living male gorilla tests positive for COVID-19 virus

Zoo Atlanta Gorilla Care Team members received presumptive positive test results indicating that members of its western lowland gorilla troops are positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Zoo Atlanta)

Multiple gorillas at Zoo Atlanta, including the world's oldest living male gorilla, have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

According to zoo officials, the zoo has received presumptive positive test results showing Ozzie and the other members of its western lowland gorilla population are positive for SARS-CoV-2.

The testing came after members of the zoo's Gorilla Care Team noticed several gorillas coughing, having nasal discharge and having changes in their appetite.

After seeing the signs, the zoo sent samples to the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Georgia, where they tested positive. The zoo is now waiting on confirmation from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

The team is now treating the gorillas at risk of developing complications with antibodies and testing the zoo's entire gorilla population regardless of their symptoms.


While officials are not sure how the gorillas became infected, they believe it was caused by a care team member who, though fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19. Officials say the team member was wearing PPE and asymptomatic when they were coming to work.

While there have been cases of humans transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to animals at other zoos, officials say they is no data that zoo animals can transmit the virus to humans and that the gorillas do not pose a transmission risk to guests.

"The teams are very closely monitoring the affected gorillas and are hopeful they will make a complete recovery. They are receiving the best possible care, and we are prepared to provide additional supportive care should it become necessary," said Sam Rivera, DVM, Senior Director of Animal Health. "We are very concerned that these infections occurred, especially given that our safety protocols when working with great apes and other susceptible animal species are, and throughout the pandemic have been, extremely rigorous."

The Atlanta zoo has been authorized and was waiting to receive the Zoetis vaccine, a COVID-19 vaccine that is specifically made for animals. The vaccine has recently arrived, and officials say the gorillas will receive the vaccine as they recover.

Ozzie, who is about 60 years old, is a 350-pound silverback who has fathered two gorillas at Zoo Atlanta.

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