Snow leopard at Illinois zoo dies after contracting Covid-19

A snow leopard at a zoo in Bloomington, Illinois, has died after contracting Covid-19.

Miller Park Zoo announced the death of Rilu, 11, which the zoo previously said “began coughing and had a raspy respiration beginning on 20 November”, in an Instagram post on Thursday.

Noting the animal’s spectacular tail, which was almost as long as its body, the zoo said Rilu produced seven offspring which are now part of its Species Survival Plan.

“Rilu’s personality and beauty will be missed by guests and staff but he will not be forgotten,” said superintendent Jay Tetzloff, adding that masks are required in all indoor spaces at the Bloomington zoo.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most animal Covid infections come from contact with humans “including owners, caretakers or others in close contact”.

Among animals vulnerable to Covid, the CDC lists companion animals including cats, dogs and ferrets; several types of big cats; otters; non-human primates; binturong; coati-mundi; fishing cats; hyenas; mink; and wild white-tailed deer.

The photographer Joel Sartore, whose image of Rilu accompanied the announcement of the animal’s death, paid tribute in his own post.

“Snow leopards are proving extremely susceptible to the disease and it’s often fatal,” Sartore said. “If you haven’t received a vaccination and booster yet, please do so. It’s more than just human lives that are at stake. Thank you.”

In December, three snow leopards at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska died of complications from Covid-19. Two Sumatran tigers recovered.

In July, zoos in Oakland and Denver announced they would start vaccinating tigers, bears and other mammals with a two-dose vaccine first administered in March to gorillas in San Diego.

Zoetis, a New Jersey animal health company, has said it has donated more than 11,000 vaccine doses to almost 70 zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, as part of an effort authorised by the US Department of Agriculture.

In December, two hippos at a zoo in Antwerp, Belgium, tested positive for Covid-19. Imani, 14, and Hermien, 41, showed no symptoms “other than runny noses”, the zoo said.

Francis Vercammen, a zoo vet, told CNN: “To my knowledge, this is the first known contamination in this species.”


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