Syracuse zoo at forefront of protecting endangered species from COVID-19

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Syracuse is at the forefront of protecting endangered animals from COVID-19. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is vaccinating some of its animals.

Zoo Director Ted Fox said it was early in the summer when they were contacted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the USDA.

Zoetis, a global animal health company, was trying to develop a COVID-19 vaccine for wild animals and needed to surveil some zoo animals to see which ones were more susceptible.

After testing lab animals, Zoetis started donating tens of thousands of doses to zoos around the country. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo was one of those locations.

Fox says they started vaccinating in September.

The staff is thrilled because some animals such as tigers, lions, and snow leopards at other zoos have contracted COVID throughout the pandemic. Many zookeepers are worried about endangered species we now know are susceptible.

“Some of them, like our amur leopards, there’s less than 200 in the whole world.”

Ted Fox

Protecting endangered animals is at the core of zoos around the nation.

Zoetis gave The Rosamond Gifford Zoo enough doses to vaccinate 21 animals.

The most challenging part, Fox said, was figuring out which animals would get vaccinated. They figured out which of their 700 animals were the most susceptible and had the closest proximity to people.

The first two to get vaccinated were Abe and Fatima, both Siamang. The only thing separating them from zoogoers is a mesh wall.

Siamang gets the first dose of Zoetis’ experimental COVID-19 vaccine
Courtesy: Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Fox said they also put camels on the list, which are susceptible to COVID.

“People were coming up and being able to feed them, so we wanted to make sure those were covered,” said Fox.

Just like people, each animal vaccinated needs a second shot. At first, they were worried about how the animals would respond to getting two vaccines so close to one another.

“We’re going through the training procedures every day with just a fake syringe with no needle on it. They’re all complying really well so we’re not concerned anymore.”

ted fox

Each shot that’s given is helping the lineage for future animals and supporting the mission of the zoo.

A huge part of our everyday life here is learning to do better for the animals, whatever that means, better healthcare, better welfare, better nutrition, but then taking that information and helping the wild populations, and that all fits together.

Ted Fox, Zoo Director

Part of the Zoetis study includes figuring out if and when zoo animals will need a COVID booster. Ted Fox believes they most likely will.

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