The animals at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden are just like us — at least in the way that they, too, have been getting the COVID-19 shot.
The zoo says for the past six weeks, its vet techs have been administering doses of the SARS-COV-2 vaccine to 80 animals, including "big cats, great apes (gorillas, bonobos, orangutans), red pandas, goats, giraffe, river otters, skunks, bearcats and domestic dogs and cats that more commonly share space with humans."
They'll be finishing the second doses of the vaccine over the next two weeks.
“We have three technicians (Amy Long, Jenny Kroll, and Janell Duvall), and they have their hands full with their regular routines and workloads,” Dr. Mark Campbell, Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal health, says in a release. “Adding the task of vaccinating dozens of animals, located all over the Zoo’s campus, to their plates was a big request. Not surprisingly, they rolled up their sleeves and got busy."
International animal health company Zoetis made the animal-specific COVID-19 vaccine and donated more than 11,000 doses of it to nearly 70 zoos across America, including the Cincinnati Zoo.
The special two-dose SARS-COV-2 vaccine was approved for experimental use by the United States Department of Agriculture and has first been used on those zoo animals who have been found to be more susceptible to the virus, including big cats, gorillas and other mammals who have close interactions with humans, according to the zoo.
The Cincinnati Zoo says no negative reactions to the vaccine have been observed so far in their population, but that "the animal care teams will continue to monitor health and immunity response of the vaccinated animals and share observations and data with Zoetis."
To prepare for the vaccine, Cincinnati Zoo care teams worked with the animals to train them to voluntarily receive the shot.
“We’ve already started training some animals, such as gorillas, for voluntary injection training,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal sciences, David Orban, in a release. “This allows those animals to voluntarily participate in their own preventative health care and eliminates the risks associated with anesthesia.”
The zoo uses operant conditioning — in this case, the animals do something the trainers need them to do, like receive a shot, and they get positive reinforcement.
“We usually have a year for the animals that receive flu shots and other routine annual vaccinations to forget about the sting, but the second COVID shots had to be given within three weeks of the first,” said Campbell. “We were concerned that the fresh memory of the first injection would make animals less willing to offer a shoulder or thigh for the second round, but they did! That success is 100% due to the strong relationships these animals have with care staff and our animal health team.”
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