Zoo in Chile begins to vaccinate animals against covid-19

Charly and Sandai, a Bengal tiger and a Bornean orangutan, both in danger of extinction, were vaccinated against the coronavirus as part of a unique experimental program in Latin America carried out by the Buin Zoo in Santiago.

At 26 years old, Sandai is a unique orangutan in South America, with great potential for the reproduction of a species under critical threat of extinction. Charly is at three years old an immense Bengal tiger, the largest feline species in the world.

Both are part of the group of 10 animals that received their second dose of the covid-19 vaccine on Monday at the Buin Zoo in Santiago, one of the largest private zoos in Latin America, as part of an experimental campaign that has been forward this institution after a donation from the "Zoetis" veterinary laboratory.

Several species of apes and big cats are more likely to be infected, according to reports from several zoos.

"Sandai is a unique specimen from South America, with an important reproductive potential for the species and that led us to focus on immunizing it," he explained to the AFP the veterinarian and director of Buin Zoo, Ignacio Idalsoaga.

Big cats like Charly were also added, in addition to three other lions, two tigers and three pumas.


The first dose was administered on December 13; the second, on January 3. Most of the species were vaccinated without the need to be anesthetized, after a long learning process based on stimuli.

"It is a very long process but at the same time very beautiful", explains Esteban Idalsoaga, head of the Department of Animal Welfare at the zoo.

"When they are very complicated behaviors such as an injection, where we already know that they are going to have a discomfort or they are going to feel the prick, the reward has to be greater than the discomfort," he explains.

They trained Charly by giving him a good portion of fresh meat in his mouth. Sandai was offered large quantities of bananas, his favorite food.

The training -which in the case of Charly tiger took about six months- began at first by touching the thigh with a pencil, and then using a porcupine quill, without piercing the skin. Everything so as not to anesthetize them.

"They are living under human care but we give them the option to choose in most of the things in their life (...) and they also save the risk of anesthesia, which is a high risk," adds Esteban Idalsoaga.

No cases of infected animals have been reported at the Buin Zoo, but in the United States, six African lions, a Sumatran tiger and two Siberians from the Washington Zoo were treated after testing positive for COVID-19 in the middle of the year.

The keepers of the enclosure observed decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing and lethargy in six African lions, a Sumatran tiger and two Siberian tigers.

Earlier, gorillas at the Atlanta, Georgia Zoo also tested positive for the coronavirus.

Protect the most susceptible

"The idea is to protect the animals most susceptible to contracting coronavirus and at the same time monitor whether vaccines generate immunity and how long that immunity lasts, which is very similar to processes in humans," says Sebastián Celis, head of the Buin Zoo Veterinary Department.

This vaccine, still in the experimental phase, was developed only for animals. The main difference from what is administered to humans is in the "carrier" or adjuvant, the laboratory explained in a statement.

This same vaccine was administered to animals at the San Diego Zoo, in the United States, and it is the first time it has been used in Chile, where 87.2% of the population over three years of age has the complete vaccination schedule and 66 , 8% have received the booster dose.

"The reaction has been quite good (...) we have not had any adverse reaction, such as decay, aggressiveness, lack of appetite, nausea; no visible sign that makes us suspect that any of the vaccinated animals has had an adverse reaction", Celis explains.

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