Thirty animals at the ABQ BioPark have received their vaccines. That includes snow leopards, cheetahs, and gorillas, according to a news release.
“We are incredibly excited to vaccinate some of our most vulnerable animals,” Dr. Carol Bradford, ABQ BioPark senior veterinarian, said in a news release Friday. “In addition to the precautions our staff has provided since the beginning of this pandemic, this will offer an extra level of protection to our animals.”
The animals don’t get Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines like we do. Instead, they received an experimental Zoetis vaccine that’s recently been used in zoos across the world.
The vaccine is made specifically for animals, according to the manufacturer’s website. It uses the same antigen as human vaccines but includes a different adjuvant — the ingredient(s) that help boost the vaccine’s power.
Already, large animals at some other zoos have caught COVID-19. A snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo caught COVID-19 last year. A snow leopard named Rilu, who lived at an Illinois zoo, recently passed away from the disease.
The ABQ BioPark says they focused their vaccination efforts on the animals who are most susceptible to the disease. The park received 60 doses of the vaccine and chose to vaccinate gorillas, orangutans, snow leopards, otters, cheetahs, Bunga the tiger, Ken the lion, and chimpanzees first.
The BioPark says they spoke with other zoos and veterinarians about potential side effects, which include tiredness and redness near the injection. “Obviously we’re not going to give something to these very precious and endangered animals if it’s not safe,” Bradford said.
So far, the park says none of the animals have had negative reactions after their first dose. They’ll also need a booster shot in three weeks.
Zoo animals are often vaccinated for other diseases, just like pets. But caretakers say getting some animals to take the shots willingly can be difficult. Primates, in particular, can be tricky to deal with.
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ABQ BioPark staff member giving a gorilla a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo from ABQ BioPark.
“They know exactly what you’re doing, so you have to break it up into baby steps,” Josephine Molina, senior primate keeper, said. “Just imagine trying to train your child to hold still when they’re getting a shot at the pediatrician’s and come back over for another six weeks later.”
Using special treats can help, they say. And any time one of the apes makes progress towards voluntarily taking their vaccine, they receive a “jackpot” such as yogurt, cottage cheese, or marshmallows.