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Zoos continue to vaccinate animals against COVID-19

Goats being held and getting COVID-19 vaccines at Zoo Boise
Zoo Boise
Zoo Boise staff administering COVID-19 vaccinations to goats at the Zoo Farm.

News Brief

Big cats like lions, tigers and leopards are susceptible to COVID-19. A rare few have even died. Mink and some hooved animals are susceptible, too, and researchers are concerned they might pass the virus back to humans some day. To stave off infections, many zoos are using a vaccine specifically made for animals to try and keep their often-endangered residents healthy.

Doug Holloway, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Boise, said many higher-risk animals at Zoo Boise are already vaccinated.

“Primates, our otters, our hoof animals, and all of the feline or cat species that we have in the zoo,” he said, adding that animals with more human contact got them, too. “So, for example, our farm animals.”

Holloway said Zoo Boise is a member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, and it leans heavily on that association for animal health guidance, including COVID-19 vaccines.

It can be challenging to vaccinate certain animals, Holloway said, but the zoo plans to finish vaccinating the rest of them over the next few months. That includes a few lionesses who are only one vaccine dose into the 2-shot regimen.

“One of the cats also came down with the sniffles a little bit, so they delayed the vaccination with her as well,” he said.

While the shots are similar to those for humans, there aren’t booster shots. The animal health company Zoetis, which makes the vaccine, said it’ll keep monitoring animals as the virus mutates, though.

“At this time, we don’t have specific plans for a booster shot, but we continue to work closely with the zoo veterinarians who have requested our vaccine on an experimental basis,” said Christina Lood, a spokesperson with the company.

Zoetis created the vaccines for animals after initial reports that dogs may be able to contract COVID-19, though experts now have largely deemed that domestic cats and dogs don’t need it.

Lood said Zoetis is donating vaccines to zoos, instead, including 11,000 doses to more than 70 zoos and animal sanctuaries in the U.S. so far.

“And we’ve recently committed to donating an additional 16,000 doses of our COVID vaccine for animals to another 100 plus zoos and animal sanctuaries in the U.S. as well as 12 other countries,” she said.

The vaccines are only provided on a case-by-case basis, though, as approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lood said that when consulting with zoo veterinarians, she’s learned that Zoetis’ COVID-19 vaccines are expected to go out to an “unprecedented” number of animals, including more than 100 mammalian species.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Nevada Public Radio, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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