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City zoo animals to get the COVID shot

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Camels and goats and meerkats, oh my!

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/03/2022 (330 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Camels and goats and meerkats, oh my!

They are among the animals at Assiniboine Park Zoo in line for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The zoo has started vaccinating certain species to prevent them from dying of the virus, which has happened at other North American zoos.

SUPPLIED The Assiniboine Park Zoo has begun the process of administering a COVID-19 vaccine made uniquely for animals to protect species at greater risk of contracting the illness.

“We do have some suggestion that some species can quickly get sick and can actually die from COVID-19,” said veterinarian Chris Enright, the zoo’s director of veterinary services and animal welfare. “Those are the animals we really want to target.”

Skunks, gibbons and other primates, and tigers are also in line. Highest-risk animals include big cats such as snow leopards, of which the zoo has two.

“We’re targeting these species that are shown to be most susceptible, as well as the species that perhaps have a high rate of human contact, because instances of COVID-19 in animals in human care, it’s spillover from people into the animals,” Enright said.

At least four snow leopards have have died from COVID-19 in North American zoos — including three at a Nebraska zoo in November.

Fifty-five animals at the Winnipeg zoo will get two doses of the shot, spaced apart by three weeks.

Zoetis, an animal pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, developed the vaccine and donated doses to zoos in Canada, including Winnipeg’s.

Enright said it took about eight months to get the Zoetis vaccine approved for use at his zoo.

The vaccine was designed for animals, but because some of the animals for which the vaccine is intended may have more in common, physiologically, with humans than each other, Enright said that designation has more to do with the approval process than the vaccine’s function.

“There’s a lot of extrapolation that we as veterinarians can do, both between mammals and between some of the human literature. All of the principles of vaccination are exactly the same,” he said.

Many of the animals will get the jab during a checkup, in which they have learned to obey commands in exchange for a treat.

“Then everything goes perfectly well,” Enright said.

Other animals may need to be put to sleep.

While the zoo lifted requirements that visitors provide proof of vaccination on March 1, when provincial regulations eased, spokesperson Laura Cabak said staff and volunteers must still be vaccinated.

Even after the animals are vaccinated, Enright said people should still be cautious.

“I would absolutely recommend keeping a lot more than two metres between yourself and a tiger,” he joked.

Toronto Zoo announced Tuesday it would vaccinate animals with the Zoetis vaccine.

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca

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