14-year-old tiger, Jupiter, dies of covid-19 complications at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium


Placeholder while article actions load

A 14-year-old tiger at an Ohio zoo died of complications from covid-19, officials said Wednesday.

The tiger, named Jupiter, died Sunday at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium after developing pneumonia from covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, officials said. He was being treated for underlying chronic health issues, which made him more susceptible to the virus, according to a statement from the zoo.

Jupiter — the first animal at the zoo to die of covid-19 — was only weeks away from his 15th birthday. In the wild, Amur tigers such as Jupiter typically live 10 to 15 years, but they can live up to 20 years in captivity.

A group of gorillas is being treated for covid. The great apes will soon get their shots, too, zoo says.

Jupiter’s care team noted on June 22 that the tiger had lost his appetite and did not seem to want to move around or interact with his keepers.

Zoo officials said Jupiter was anesthetized for an examination, which suggested an infection, and treatment was initiated. “Unfortunately, Jupiter did not improve with this treatment and remained reluctant to move and eat,” officials said.

Although he appeared stable, he died in the early-morning hours on Sunday.

Tracking coronavirus in animals takes on new urgency

Sarah Hamer, a veterinary epidemiologist at Texas A&M University, told The Washington Post that coronavirus diagnoses among animals are rare, partly because testing in animals is rarely done.

However, there have been anecdotal reports of zoo animals testing positive for the virus. In October, a lion at the National Zoo nearly died after contracting covid-19, and one at the Honolulu Zoo did die. The next month, three snow leopards at a Nebraska zoo died of covid-19 complications.

To protect against it, dozens of zoos, sanctuaries and conservatories in the United States have vaccinated the wild animals.

A zoo’s three ‘beloved’ snow leopards die of covid-19

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, Hamer and her team have been testing family pets in covid-19-positive households to determine how often the pets contract the illness. Among 600 pets from households in which at least one human inhabitant had covid-19, about 25 percent of the households had pets that also tested positive for infection and about 25 percent of the infected pets were reported by their owners to be symptomatic — experiencing lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and, in some cases, coughing and sneezing. But in all cases, the pets got better without veterinary intervention, she said Thursday in a phone interview.

With infected zoo animals, “usually we find out about it when an animal is displaying clinical signs — they’re noted to be sick, so they’re tested and the test comes back positive. That’s when we learn about it,” she said. “But we don’t learn about all the potential times when a zoo animal might be exposed and might get infected but doesn’t develop clinical signs, because in that case, there would be no reason to test it.”

But Hamer said the research is important for the health of the animals as well as the health of humans.

Hamer said in some cases, animals who are exposed to the coronavirus may get infected and then serve as a reservoir, or carrier, infecting other animals or transmitting the virus back to humans.

In a study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases this summer, researchers in Thailand documented what is believed to be the first case in which a pet cat infected a human with the virus. The human — a veterinarian — tested positive after being sneezed on by an infected cat, according to the researchers. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted the risk of animal-to-human transmission is low.

It’s not exactly clear how Jupiter contracted the virus. Officials with the Columbus Zoo are requiring staff members that work with big cats, great apes and mustelids, such as otters, to wear masks when working closely with these animals, which are more susceptible to contracting the disease, the zoo officials said in the statement.

Jupiter, an Amur tiger (also known as a Siberian tiger), was born in July 2007 at the Moscow Zoo. In 2015, he arrived at the Columbus Zoo, where six of the nine cubs he sired were born over the past seven years, officials said in the statement.

Officials said he will be remembered as “a big and impressive tiger” that loved fish, sleeping in his cave and playing with cardboard boxes.

This story has been updated.



Leave a comment