Tiger tests positive for COVID-19 at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota

The infected tiger is a 21-year-old called Sabrina.
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A tiger has tested positive for COVID-19 at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota.

The tiger, a 21-year-old Sumatran/Bengal tiger called Sabrina, tested positive for the virus, received care and has subsequently recovered from what was initially thought to be a respiratory infection. 

She becomes only the second captive or domestic animal in Minnesota to test positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, following a housecat last June.

"It’s a good reminder that the virus can be transmitted from people to animals. We appreciate the veterinarians in the state who contact our office to discuss testing and surveillance of exposed and symptomatic animals so we can investigate with our state and federal partners," said Minnesota State Veterinarian Dr. Beth Thompson.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health notes that staff at the sanctuary first noticed lions, tigers, and cougars displaying symptoms in early January.

In a post on its Facebook page, the sanctuary says this came shortly after two of its new arrivals, named Marcus and Winona, started showing upper respiratory symptoms including "intermittent wheezing."

Concerns grew as other cats started showing symptoms, with the sanctuary particularly concerned about Sabrina.

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"As a precaution due to her age, the vet team sedated Sabrina," the sanctuary said on its Facebook page. "While under anesthesia, swab samples were taken and sent to the lab for upper respiratory diseases and viruses, including Covid-19.

"The initial results from Idexx Laboratories was positive for Covid-19. Results from the U.S Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories are pending and should arrive shortly."

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health says that people with COVID can spread the virus to animals during close contact, and anyone with suspected or confirmed COVID should avoid contact with pets or other animals.

"We have not seen any evidence of COVID passing from pet or wild captive cats to humans,” said State Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Joni Scheftel. "Yet, in an abundance of caution, MDH is working closely with The Wildcat Sanctuary to understand and monitor the situation."

The sanctuary was founded in 1999 and is funded solely from private donations.  It saves big cats that are either surrendered, confiscated or rescued from private ownership in the U.S.

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