Louisiana Zoo Begins COVID Vaccinations, Starting With Apes and Tigers

One of the most popular zoos in the country has begun administering the COVID-19 vaccine to monkeys, and next are the tigers and otters. After that, its entire kingdom could face inoculation.

The famous Audubon Zoo in New Orleans began vaccinating primates this week, starting with orangutans and gorillas. Next up are the other primates, the cat family and mustelids, which are smaller but carnivorous animals like badgers, otters, weasels, ferrets, wolverines and minks. Then, any other mammals that could catch or spread COVID.

The vaccine given to these animals has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"This is not the same vaccine that has been approved for humans as emergency use," said Bob MacLean, senior veterinarian for the Audubon Zoo. "This is a vaccine with different technology developed for animals."

Here's a video that shows MacLean talking about the animal vaccine to fight COVID-19.

"Most of our animals that we want to vaccinate are trained for behavioral injections so we should not have to anesthetize any of our animals to provide this vaccine to them," MacLean said in the video.

Zoo employees who work with animals often work to develop traits to make them more comfortable with inoculations. What does that mean? For example, a primate will come to the edge of its cage and lean a shoulder inwards, often to get poked by nothing more than a tongue depressor—training the animal to be comfortable for any shots it may get.

"Our animals do receive other vaccinations," MacLean said. "We vaccinate all mammals for rabies, and many of our animals get West Nile virus vaccine or distemper or other vaccines related to diseases that we know they can be susceptible to.

"The health and safety of our animals is our top priority. We definitely have animals that we know are susceptible to COVID. We have been using masking and distancing where we can with all our susceptible animals."

There have been no cases so far at the Audubon Zoo, according to MacLean.

Audubon Zoo Orangutan
Under the weather. Freddie the orangutan seems to be nursing quite a headache while lying in the sun at the New Orleans Audubon Zoo, while daytime temperatures climbed into the mid-fifties up from mid thirties overnight low. The weather may not be the problem, however, as he just might be suffering from too much partying. Word around the zoo is that Freddie is quite a swinger. Photo by Getty Images

The Audubon Nature Institute is a sprawling area within New Orleans along the Mississippi River that provides a natural habitat for many animals, and a world class aquarium for a plethora of marine life.

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, which is adjacent to the city's French Quarter and along the Mississippi River, is rated among the top 10 aquariums in the country. The Audubon Zoo is rated among the top 10 zoos in the country, according to the USA Today.

The zoo told reporters that a vaccine has been in development for animals to combat a coronavirus for quite some time, and that Zoetis Inc. developed such a vaccine. Zoetis developed its newest vaccine for domestic animals after a dog in Hong Kong tested positive for the COVID-19 virus last year.

"Although there are no long-term studies since the virus emerged less than two years ago, development studies by Zoetis demonstrated the vaccine to be safe and have a reasonable expectation of efficacy in mounting an immune response in animals," MacLean said at nola.com.

"It's very important to us to protect our animals against COVID-19 and the delta variant," MacLean continued. "We have been evaluating the scientific literature on animal susceptibility throughout the pandemic, and we are eager to protect our animals."