Woodland Park Zoo Begins COVID Vaccinations For Animals

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SEATTLE — Woodland Park Zoo has joined others across the country in administering COVID-19 vaccines to its most susceptible species, officials announced Tuesday.

In recent weeks, Woodland Park’s animal care team began providing a two-dose series of an experimental vaccine manufactured by Zoetis, designed specifically for use in zoo settings. The animal health company donated 11,000 doses to dozens of zoos across the country, and Woodland Park recently received its first shipment, officials said.

The zoo said it worked with animal care and veterinary networks to prioritize animals deemed at high risk for COVID-19 infections, following illnesses among gorillas and big cats reported at other zoos.

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“Although the number of human COVID-19 cases has reduced in recent weeks, recent reports show that animals at zoos are still susceptible to the virus,” said Dr. Tim Storms, director of animal health at Woodland Park Zoo. “Keeping our animals safe and healthy remains our top priority so it’s still essential to vaccinate to prevent infections.”

Gorillas, orangutans, lions, tigers, snow leopards and otters were among the first to receive their two doses at Woodland Park Zoo, with more susceptible spices likely to be vaccinated next month, officials said. Each animal receives a second dose three weeks after their first.

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To help minimize stress, behavioral trainers worked with animals for weeks to get them acclimated enough to “voluntarily participate in their own health care,” the zoo said.

“Training our animals for these behaviors can dramatically reduce stress and risk by helping them become more comfortable with medical procedures and fostering strong bonds that build trust between our animals and their animal keepers,” said Nancy Hawkes, director of animal care at Woodland Park Zoo. “By giving our animals choice and control over their experiencing and following their cues, we develop happier and safer animal residents.”

For gorillas, orangutans and large cats, the zoo said the animals press their shoulders against a mesh enclosure to receive their injection and receive a treat for their cooperation. L=Smaller animals are hand injected in a smaller space.

Woodland Park said no animals have experienced complications from the vaccine.

“All animals that we have vaccinated are doing great — to date we have not seen any adverse effects from the vaccine,” Storms said. “The vaccine has been safely administered by a number of other zoos, and we feel that the benefits of protecting our susceptible animal species far outweigh the challenges of vaccinating them.”

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