Nine big cats at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C. have tested positive for COVID-19, zoo officials said Friday.
According to a statement from the zoo, six lions and three tigers have returned "presumptive" positive coronavirus tests. The animals will be under observation while they await final test results.
Zoo officials said the animals have been exhibiting symptoms — such as decreased appetites, coughing, sneezing, and lethargy — since last weekend.
The nine potentially infected cats are the only animals at the zoo "showing any signs of infection," according to the National Zoo's statement.
The animals are being treated with anti-inflammatories and anti-nausea medication "to address discomfort" in addition to antibodies for possible cases of secondary bacterial pneumonia.
A zoo spokeswoman believes the cats likely caught the deadly disease from a human, The Washington Post reports.
Zoo officials have performed "a thorough investigation of all staff that were in close proximity to the lions and tigers" but have yet to determine the source of the transmission.
The public, they said, is not at risk "given the substantial distance between the animals and visitors."
"While it is possible the infection was transmitted by an asymptomatic carrier, it has been standard practice for all animal care staff and essential staff to mask indoors in all public and non-public areas," the statement from the zoo added.
Zoo officials also noted that "the health and safety of Smithsonian staff, animals, and visitors" has been a priority amid the pandemic.
"The Zoo's existing COVID-19 protocols restrict behind-the-scenes access in all animal areas and require use of personal protective equipment, hygiene, cleaning, employee self-screening, and health management," the Zoo said in their statement. "The Zoo's COVID safety and response protocols are in place and being strictly followed."
National Zoo has plans to distribute the first round of a COVID vaccine made specifically for zoo animals by Zoetis to select animals considered susceptible species when it becomes available in the coming months.