It appears at least some can, according to the World Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo.
The New York based zoo announced Sunday that a 4-year-old female Malayan tiger named “Nadia” has tested positive for COVID-19, and that her sister “Azul,” two Amur tigers, and three African lions had developed a dry cough. All are expected to recover.
The positive COVID-19 test for the tiger is believed to be the first for an animal in the U.S. It was confirmed by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory, based in Ames, Iowa, the zoo said.
“We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution and will ensure any knowledge we gain about COVID-19 will contribute to the world’s continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus,” said Max Pulsinelli, the Bronx Zoo’s executive director of communications.
Pulsinelli said though the cats have experienced some decrease in appetite, the ones at the zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are “bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers.”
He said it is not known how the disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, adding, “We will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries.”
The four affected tigers live in the zoo’s Tiger Mountain exhibit. One male Amur tiger that also lives at Tiger Mountain has not exhibited any clinical signs, and a Malayan tiger and two Amur tigers at the zoo’s Wild Asia exhibit have also not exhibited any clinical signs, Pulsinelli said.
“Our cats were infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms. Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats,” Pulsinelli said.
You cannot send human samples to the veterinary laboratory, and you cannot send animal tests to the human laboratories, so there is no competition for testing between these very different situations."
— Bronx Zoo (@BronxZoo) April 6, 2020
The USDA offered the following statement, in part:
“Anyone sick with COVID-19 should restrict contact with animals, out of an abundance of caution, including pets, during their illness, just as they would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If a sick person must care for a pet or be around animals, they should wash their hands before and after the interaction,” the USDA said.
The Wildlife Conservation Society‘s four zoos and aquarium have been temporarily closed since March 16.