KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — One of Zoo Knoxville’s Malayan tigers has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the same virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

Zoo Knoxville says they are working with state and local animal and human health agencies to determine the source of the infection, which at this time is suspected to be an asymptomatically infected staff member working in close proximity to the tigers when caring for them. 

Arya, a 6-year-old female and Bashir and Tanvir, 11-year-old males, exhibited mild coughing, lethargy and decrease in appetite, and were tested for a range of potential causes, including SARS-CoV-2, said a spokesperson for the zoo.  

Bashir is confirmed as positive for the virus by the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories, based in Ames, Iowa. Testing for the other two tigers is in process, but they are presumed positive. 

Bashir the tiger tested positive for COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Zoo Knoxville

Arya, Bashir and Tanvir are being cared for by the veterinary team from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and are alert, active and no longer exhibiting symptoms. 

The tigers are in quarantine until they are symptom free for 72 hours and either all diagnostic tests are negative, or 14 days have passed since the last positive test in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

No other animals at Zoo Knoxville have shown signs of illness. 

Zoo Knoxville’s safety protocols include the use of protective gear while caring for animals, and this was standard practice before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Based on limited information available to date, the risk of animals, including these tigers, spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to people is low. 

Zoo Knoxville’s tigers are participating in the Coronavirus Epidemiological Research and Surveillance (CoVERS) study, run by the Runstadler lab at Cummings School, which is studying SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 transmission between humans and animals.