Tiger at Minnesota wild cat sanctuary tests positive for COVID-19 virus

A tiger at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, state officials said Tuesday. 

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health said staff at the sanctuary first noticed lions, tigers and cougars displaying symptoms of the coronavirus in early January. Shortly after, the US Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed a 21-year-old female Sumatran/Bengal tiger was infected with SARS-CoV-2. 

The sanctuary veterinarian reports the tiger received supportive care and has recovered from the illness. 

"Though some of the animals experienced a decrease in appetite and intermittent wheezing, they are all bright, alert and responsive under close veterinary care," Tammy Thies, The Wildcat Sanctuary executive director, said in a statement. "None of the cats are showing symptoms at this time and all are expected to fully recover." 

The Minnesota Department of Health is working closely with The Wildcat Sanctuary to monitor the situation. The board said caregivers and staff at the sanctuary have maintained strict COVID-19 protocols, wearing face masks, sanitizing hands and maintaining physical distance, since the onset of the pandemic early last year. The sanctuary is not open to the public.

This is the second confirmed case of the virus in a captive or domestic animal in the state. The first was a house cat in Carver County in June.

The board said people infected with COVID-19 can spread the virus to some animals during close contact, but there has been no evidence of domestic or wild captive cats passing the virus to humans. 

Officials say people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets or other animals to protect them from possible infection.