Jacksonville Zoo to vaccinate more than 200 animals against COVID-19 by end of winter

If you come to the Jacksonville Zoo this fall, you may not be able to get as close to the bonobos and gorillas as you once could.

Jacksonville, FL — The push to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 doesn’t just stop at humans.

Zoos across the country are starting to vaccinate their animals.

Dr. Yousef Jafarey, a veterinarian at the Jacksonville Zoo said, “We’re doing all of our bats. We’re also doing otters as well as a number of our carnivore species like the bears and the coyotes. And we’re also doing zooids, so warty pigs and warthogs.”

Dr. Jarfarey said the animals will receive a special COVID-19 vaccine made just for them.

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“It’s made by Zoetis,” he said. “It’s a veterinary-only company that manufactured a veterinary-only vaccine. It can’t be used in humans, it’s specifically made for the animals.”

Experts have warned that COVID-19 has the potential to wipe out populations of gorillas and other primates if humans don’t take steps to prevent the spread.

“They’re all just as susceptible but the primates, we’re worried about them getting sicker and requiring more invasive therapy,” Dr. Jafarey said.

Just last week, Zoo Atlanta officials confirmed nine western lowland gorillas tested positive for COVID. Following the diagnosis, Zoo Atlanta vets vaccinated the orangutans, lions, tigers, and clouded leopards.

Right now, Jacksonville Zoo officials are working to get ahead of any similar kind of outbreak.

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“We try to enforce strict personal protective equipment whenever we’re around the animals. We also take extra steps with where the animals are placed in their enclosures when they’re viewed for the public,” Dr. Jafarey said. “So, we avoid certain areas with certain species like the Kapok tree here. We don’t allow the bonobos and the gorillas in there anymore until we can get COVID-19 under control.”

According to the CDC, the risk of animals spreading COVID to people is low. But we know COVID can spread from person to animal in some situations.

For now, veterinarians are working on training the animals to become familiar with needles.

They hope to have all vulnerable animals vaccinated by the end of winter.