The Antwerp Zoo in Belgium is reporting two COVID-19 cases in hippopotami, the first such reported cases.
The national veterinary laboratory Sciensano confirmed the lab results in two hippos– Imani and Hermien are infected with coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Both animals show no other symptoms other than a runny nose and are doing well. The animals are in isolation and the caretakers are taking even stricter safety measures.
A zoo veterinarian, Dr. Francis said, “They spit out some snots, which I had tested for bacteria as a precaution. The result was negative. But given current events, I took the extra step to also have the samples tested for COVID-19, with this exceptional result. To my knowledge this is the first time with this species. Worldwide, this virus has mainly been reported in great apes and felines.”
Antwerp Zoo immediately took the necessary precautions. Doctor Francis confirms: “The samples were sent to the National Veterinary Laboratory Sciensano for final confirmation. The hippo building was immediately closed to visitors and the caretakers were tested and found negative. Security measures have been tightened. In addition to wearing mouth masks and disinfecting shoes, the employees now also wear safety glasses in contact with the animals and avoid contact with other caretakers and animals.” The building is locked and the caretakers have their own bubble. Hippos Hermien (41 years) and Imani (14.5 years) do not show any other symptoms but are closely monitored by their caretakers. The animals are now temporarily unavailable to visitors. The building will not reopen until the values of the tests are negative again.
The cause of the infection is unknown. None of the caregivers have recently gone through the disease, they have not shown any symptoms. Could they have carried the virus asymptomatically and unknowingly transmitted it to the animals? Impossible to know.