Partially vaccinated Brookfield Zoo tiger tests positive for COVID

BROOKFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- A partially vaccinated 11-year-old tiger at the Brookfield Zoo has tested positive for COVID-19.

The zoo received confirmation of Amur tiger Malena's positive test this week after she started showing mild respiratory symptoms, including coughing and sneezing, late last week. Those symptoms are consistent with what other zoos have seen in big cats infected with COVID-19, according to a statement from the Chicago Zoological Society.

Mike Adkesson, vice president of clinical medicine for the Chicago Zoological Society, said he is "optimistic" that Malena will make a full recovery. The statement added that her prognosis is "good" based on illness in big cats at other zoos.

"Malena is an older tiger and therefore at an elevated risk," Adkesson said. "However, she's in good health and her symptoms have been relatively minor."

Malena received her first COVID-19 vaccine dose on Sept. 16 and was due to receive her second dose next week. Other high-risk animals at Brookfield Zoo also began receiving their first doses in September, the statement said.

"Having had one dose of the animal vaccine, it's reasonable to expect that Malena's immune system was partially primed to combat the virus, and therefore the severity of her illness has been decreased," Adkesson said.

Similar symptoms have also developed in the zoo's other cat species, but they are "recovering and doing well," according to the statement. Final results for additional lab testing submitted by veterinary staff will be available from the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories sometime next week, the statement added.

Brookfield Zoo has closed its Clouded Leopard Rain Forest and Desert's Edge indoor exhibits until further notice as a precaution, the statement said. Still, the big cats will continue to have access to their outdoor habitats, which the statement said are "adequately distanced" from the zoo's public walkway. The zoo requires visitors to wear masks inside all buildings.
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