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NC Zoo veterinarians take steps to prevent COVID-19 transmission between animals and zoo staff, visitors

Posted February 23, 2021 6:00 a.m. EST
Updated February 23, 2021 7:40 a.m. EST

— COVID-19 is not just a threat to humans, but also a risk for many animals. Veterinarians with the North Carolina Zoo have a strategy to reduce the risk of infection.

NC Zoo head veterinarian JB Minter said, "We are always concerned about disease transmission from zoo animals to people or zoo animals to the keepers and others, but also the other direction."

Minter said some animals are at more risk than others to viruses like COVID-19, especially man’s closest relatives.

"Chimpanzees, gorillas and some of the smaller primate species – we share 98% of the same DNA, so most diseases that we can contract, they also contract," explained Minter.

He says many of the animals at the North Carolina Zoo are trained to participate in their own health care like coming up to veterinarians to get weighed or have blood drawn. That practice has been stopped until the pandemic threat ends.

Minter says a few other zoos in the country have reported cross infection of COVID-19 among small and large cat species as well as other animals.

Masks, good hand-hygiene and social distancing are also strategies practiced at the zoo.

"We try to limit the amount of contact that we would have between staff that worked day to day with the animals," said Minter.

Preventative health exams and many elective procedures on animals have been delayed. Some favorite habitats are now closed to visitors like the otter exhibit.

"Our otter habit is one of the few areas where guests can over look and kind on look down onto the otters," said Minter.

Visitors are still welcome to enjoy a day at the park if they follow common sense precautions.

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