Nine great apes from a zoo San Diego (California, USA) have been the first animals to have received a specific covid-19 vaccine for themlocal media reported this Thursday.
So far, the San Diego Zoo has vaccinated four orangutans and five bonobos, also called pygmy chimpanzees, and plans to immunize three more bonobos and a gorilla “soon.”
This news comes after the zoo reported in mid-January that eight gorillas from that center had developed covid-19, after being exposed to a caregiver who was ill, had no symptoms and wore protective equipment to work.
“That made us realize that our other apes were at risk. We wanted to do everything we could to protect them from this virus because we really don’t know how it will affect them,” said Nadine Lamberski, Director of Wildlife Health and Conservation at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, to the local San Diego Tribune newspaper.
Those species, along with chimpanzees, are the closest primates to humans, putting them at risk of contracting a virus that has spread rapidly from person to person.
According to National Geographic magazine, an orangutan named Karen, who made history in 1994 as the world’s first ape to undergo open heart surgery, was one of those who received the vaccine at the San Diego conservation center.
Last month, Karen, along with three other orangutans and five bonobos at the zoo, received two doses each of the vaccine, which was developed by the veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis and is currently in the experimental phase.
“This is not the norm. In my career, I have not had access to an experimental vaccine so early in the process and I have not had such an overwhelming desire to want to use one,” Lamberski clarified to National Geographic, which was the first medium in report vaccination of great apes.
Covid-19 infections in dogs, cats, minks, tigers, lions and other animals have also been confirmed worldwide, although great apes, because of their proximity to humans, are a particular concern among conservationists.
All gorilla species are listed as “endangered” or “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, with “susceptibility to disease” one of the main threats.
According to experts, infections spread “rapidly” among animals, living in close family groups.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.