War hippos contract COVID, perhaps 1st of species

BRUSSELS (AP) – A pair of hippos at a Belgium zoo are in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, possibly the first time such animals have been infected with the disease, the institution said Friday.

Belgium’s national veterinary laboratory confirmed that two hippos from the Antwerp Zoo – Imani, 14, and Hermien, 41 – contracted COVID-19. It is not known how they were infected. In addition to having a runny nose, the two giant semi-aquatic herbivores are doing well. Keepers have tightened restrictions against the virus around the zoo.

“As far as I know, it is the first record of infection in this species. Throughout the world, this virus has almost always occurred in apes and cats, “said Francis Vercammen, a zoo veterinarian.

How the hippos got infected remains a mystery. Last year, they tested every animal at the zoo for COVID-19 and no cases were found. Hippos’ noses are often wet, but Vercammen said he decided to test the thick liquid as a precaution and was surprised by the result.

The hippo enclosure has been closed to visitors and will only reopen when the animals test negative. All their keepers have tested negative and must wear protective masks and goggles, as well as disinfect their footwear before approaching the animals.


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