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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: Kirana is one of the three Sumatran tigers in Tacoma that will now be getting a little extra distance.
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Kirana is one of the three Sumatran tigers in Tacoma that will now be getting a little extra distance.
Credit: Courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Washington zoos start social distancing from tigers

Zoos in western Washington are taking extra precautions since a tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York this week was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The USDA says the Bronx tiger was probably infected by a zoo employee who didn’t know they had the virus.

In response, workers at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma are now keeping extra space and wearing masks when interacting with their three tigers.

Head veterinarian Dr. Karen Wolf said they’re also being extra cautious with all the exotic cats.

“Not only are we following these protocols for our tigers,” Wolf said. "But we also have clouded leopards, we have a lynx, we have several. So we're implementing all these changes and we're working with them as well.”

Wolf said the concern is people with the virus could infect the animals – not the other way around.

Another change at Point Defiance is employees washing pens and cages with low-flow hoses instead of high-pressure water. Wolf said power washers can aerosolize particles and potentially spread coronavirus.

Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle is also taking precautions by limiting the number of people who interact with tigers there. A spokesperson said Woodland Park employees are “wearing surgical masks when in proximity or preparing the animal diets for all cats.”

None of the tigers at Point Defiance or Woodland Park are exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums issued guidance this week for all zoos in the country to use more Personal Protective Equipment around tigers, like coveralls and eye protection.

Dr. Karen Wolf from Point Defiance emphasized one point from the AZA’s statement: there’s no reason to be suspicious of your house cat.

“At this time there's no evidence that pets can get sick from this disease like we've seen in the tiger and there's no evidence that pets can pass the disease to humans,” Wolf said.

If you start feeling flu-like symptoms, call your doctor. If your pet starts showing symptoms, Wolf said to call your vet.