Zoo giving COVID-19 vaccine to ape, cats and otters

Published 9:06 pm Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The zoo in New Orleans is vaccinating great apes against COVID-19, and plans to vaccinate cats, otters and animals related to otters.

The Audubon Zoo recently received enough of the two-dose animal vaccine for its four gorillas and four orangutans, spokeswoman Annie Matherne said Wednesday. She said doses for cats, otters and ferrets are still pending.

“It’s very important to us to protect our animals against COVID-19 and the Delta variant,” Dr. Bob MacLean, Audubon’s senior veterinarian, said in a news release Tuesday. “We have been evaluating the scientific literature on animal susceptibility throughout the pandemic, and we are eager to protect our animals.”

The veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis announced in July that it was donating more than 11,000 doses of the experimental vaccine it makes for mammals to 70 zoos and more than a dozen other institutions in 27 states.

Getting state approval to use the vaccine and legal agreements from the company took a while, Matherne said.

Gorillas and orangutans are getting their first doses, she said, with cats and mustelids such as otters next in line.

An orangutan vaccinated in January at the San Diego Zoo was the first ape in the world to get the vaccine.

MacLean said most animals to be vaccinated at Audubon have been trained to sit, stand, or put part of their bodies where a shot can be administered. For instance, he showed in a video that the gorillas know they can get treats by putting the back of a shoulder against a heavy mesh fence and keeping it there in spite of being poked.