Assiniboine Park Zoo to vaccinate some animals against COVID-19

The animal care team suspects the gibbon, born on Feb. 4, is a girl, but they haven’t completed a physical examination so they aren’t 100 per cent sure. (Source: Assiniboine Park Zoo)

Some of the animals at Assiniboine Park Zoo will soon join nearly a million Manitobans in getting their COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Dr. Chris Enright, director of veterinary services and animal welfare at the zoo, as a veterinary COVID-19 vaccine becomes available the zoo will begin to immunize some of its animals, including gibbons and tigers.

“Members of our species that we know are going to be susceptible, we’re going to add this level of protection to it,” he said.

Enright said there is an evolving understanding of COVID-19 in the veterinary world, but they have learned that some wild animals are susceptible to it, including primates and members of the cat family.

He said as COVID-19 has infected people across the world, it has also been found in some pets, as well as zoo animals.

“It’s happened in zoo situations where it’s spilled over from people into members of the cat family, like lions, tigers, and snow leopards, as well as members of the primate family, like gorillas and orangutans,” Enright explained.

Enright said the veterinary vaccine currently being developed is being created for domestic animals.

“The vaccine we're acquiring is a veterinary-specific vaccine from a company called Zoetis,” he said.

“It will be a series of two vaccinations using actually a different technology from the mRNA vaccines that we’re all hearing about for people.”

Enright explained that the way they are going to administer the vaccine will depend on the animal.

“Some of our animals are able to participate in their veterinary care and they present their shoulder for a vaccination,” he said. "They know if they do it, they’ll get a click and they’ll get a treat,” he said

Enright added that some animals aren’t as far along in their training so the vets have the option of administering it with a blowpipe or putting the animal under anesthesia.

“We have a really comprehensive veterinary program and that includes checkups and vaccinations,” he said.

“We already vaccinate things like our gibbons for a number of diseases already. COVID-19 is a vaccine that we’re going to add in on top of that.”