The COVID-19 pandemic was recently announced to have taken a minimum of 5 million human lives, amounting to over 28 million lost years of life, and as it continues to spread we are learning more about how it affects other species.
Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska is mourning the deaths of three snow leopards that died due to COVID-19 complications. The loss is a bitter pill to swallow for both the keepers and snow leopards in general – with just a few thousand animals thought to be left in the wild, captive animals represent an important reserve population for the species.
Described as silly, bubbly, and handsome by the staff that cared for them, the three leopards – Everest, Makalu, and Ranney – first tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in October. Some of the zoo’s Sumatran tigers also tested positive. All were treated with steroids and antibiotics, and were expected to make a full recovery.
Unfortunately, the snow leopard trio developed complications associated with the disease and eventually died.
“It is with deep sadness that we inform our community that three snow leopards at the Lincoln Children's Zoo have passed away due to complications of COVID-19,” wrote the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in a Facebook post.
“Our leopards, Ranney, Everest, and Makalu, were beloved by our entire community inside and outside of the zoo. This loss is truly heartbreaking, and we are all grieving together.”
The virus running rampant in non-human species has been a concern since the pandemic began, as it would provide an opportunity for further mutations that could give rise to strains even more deadly to humans. Domestic pets, including cats, have tested positive for the disease – though at the time of writing it’s thought that they are more likely to catch COVID-19 from us than we are from them.
The role COVID-19 will play in the future of endangered species also remains to be seen, as conservationists fear that vulnerable and isolated populations could be wiped out if an outbreak lands on their doorstep. Mountain gorillas are one such species, who, like snow leopards, are only thought to have a few thousand individuals left in the wild.
With some politicians having opted for a “lions don’t wear masks” approach to the pandemic, the deaths of these three fierce big cats is perhaps a pertinent reminder of the severity of COVID-19 and why we should all do our part to control its spread.