A significant development in the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in recent days when a zoo tiger in New York tested positive. It was the first known cat-related species to contract the virus. Now, Toronto Zoo animals are being watched far more closely as the zoo revealed it has tightened up its protocols in response to the diagnosis.
Nadia, a four-year-old Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo, was found to have the virus after developing a dry cough.
The news sparked concerns after it had previously been suggested that animals could not catch the virus, and particularly not from humans.
It's still not known for sure how animal-human interaction affects the virus.
But Toronto Zoo staff are taking no chances.
Andrew Lentini, Senior Director of Wildlife at Toronto Zoo, told the Canadian Press, via National Post: "It was disturbing. It wasn’t on my radar at all. We didn’t realize any cat species would be susceptible."
Lentini did stress that no human employee at the currently-closed zoo has tested positive, and no animals have been found to have potential symptoms.
However, the CP report states that zoo staff have introduced new firmer precautions in light of the news from nearby New York.
Those include wearing masks, gloves, and cover-all outfits designed to reduce contact.
Toronto Zoo currently has four tigers and a bunch of other big cats as residents.
The institution has been safeguarding against animal illness for years now, added Lentini.
In particular, the zoo's endangered great apes have been heavily protected from illnesses that have similar respiratory effects as COVID-19, such as common influenza.
These days, though, things are a bit stricter.
Though visitors are currently not allowed at the closed zoo, anyone at all entering the area must go through screening. Anyone coming close to apes or big cats is now obliged to wear protective gear.
For what it's worth, University of Guelph veterinary professor Scott Weese says early indications suggest cats, along with ferrets, can be infected with the root virus that causes COVID-19.
They can transmit it between other felines and ferrets, but there is no data yet available on whether cats can infect humans, Weese adds.
Toronto Zoo's precautionary measures are in line with advice from Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums.
And, if you're concerned about the welfare of the animals, you can check in on them from your sofa with the zoo's live cams.