Tigers at Zoo Knoxville with COVID-19


An 11-year old Malayan tiger, named Bashir, at Zoo Knoxville has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and confirmed by the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory (though it’s not yet confirmed there publicly), it has been confirmed by various local news outlets and the zoo made the announcement saying that USDA confirmed.

Two other Malayan tigers, 6-year-old Arya and 11-year-old Tanvir, are also suspected to have the virus and are awaiting test results. The zoo said the three had mild coughing, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

The zoo believes the infected endangered tigers were got the virus as a result of a staff member who who was asymptomatic.

The zoo said the three tigers are in isolation and will be allowed out once they are symptom-free for 72 hours and either diagnostic tests come back negative or 14 days have passed. No other zoo animals have shown signs of illness. It’s not proven, but so far, it appears  unlikely the tigers are infectious to people. And at this point, they are likely not infectious at all given what is known about the course of disease in cats.

A veterinary team from University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who are now caring for the big cats, say that they are now showing no signs of illness and are all active and alert .

Zoo Knoxville’s tigers are participating in the Coronavirus Epidemiological Research and Surveillance (CoVERS) study, run by the Runstadler lab at Cummings School, which is studying SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 transmission between humans and animals,” the zoo said.

In April, at the Bronx Zoo, at least one Malayan tiger and one African lion were also diagnosed with COVID and confirmed by the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory. The animals who showed signs of illness quickly recovered.

Demonstrating both the care and safety precautions zoo staff has taken – not only in the U.S. – but around the world, these are the only known cases of animals getting the novel Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS Co-V 2) virus that causes COVID-19. That’s actually surprising in some ways, because great apes in the past have been shown to be susceptible to the same corona viruses we are and could presumably get more sick than cats typically do. Also, mustelid species are susceptible, including mink and one may presume their relatives such as various species of otters, polecats, skunks and wolverines as well as domestic ferrets sometimes maintained at children’s zoos. Still, again these species have been virus free – at least as far as anyone knows.

Here’s the latest on now SARS CoV-2 and COVID-19 impact dogs and domestic cats.