Saint Louis Zoo Begins Vaccinating Its At-Risk Animals Against COVID-19

Safety and well-being of the animals is paramount

(Sept. 30, 2021, St. Louis, MO) The Saint Louis Zoo has vaccinated its first animal against COVID-19, a move to protect the health and well-being of its most at-risk animals from the deadly virus. Male chimpanzee “Jimiyu” (pronounced Jimmy-you) received his first dose of Zoetis’ (pronounced zoe-EYE-tess) COVID-19 vaccine, which has been authorized for use on animals on a case-by-case, experimental basis.

The 29-year-old chimpanzee received the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines during a regularly scheduled veterinary exam that included cardiac and dental checkups under anesthesia at the Endangered Species Research and Veterinary Hospital at the Zoo. Jimiyu is recovering well in a private area at the Jungle of the Apes habitat. No adverse side effects are expected, according to Zoo veterinarians. As with all veterinary procedures and vaccinations, the chimpanzee will be monitored by the experienced animal care teams.

Over the next few months, the Zoo plans to administer the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine in a staged roll-out to almost 100 primates, big cats, river otters, painted dogs and bat-eared foxes, all of which carry a potential risk of being infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. Doses are given three weeks apart and full vaccination is reached two weeks after the second dose.

"Preventive health is most of what we do here," said Sathya Chinnadurai, DVM, Director of Animal Health, Saint Louis Zoo. "We really believe in keeping our animals healthy, not just treating them when they are sick. Vaccines are nothing new for us. As with every vaccine we administer, we first determine risk of exposure, risk of illness from the disease and potential vaccine side-effects. With cases of coronavirus infection coming up in zoos around the country, we are lucky to be able to give this vaccine to our at-risk patients."

"We are very fortunate to partner with Zoetis and have access to this vaccine as an added layer of protection to keep our animals healthy," said Luis Padilla, DVM, Vice President of Animal Collections, Saint Louis Zoo. "Throughout the pandemic, no animal has tested positive for COVID-19 at the Saint Louis Zoo. We have relied on biosecurity and PPE best practices for animal safety, and as we welcome this animal vaccine, we will continue to emphasize that prioritizing the health of our staff remains the best tool to keep our animals healthy.

"Many of the recently recognized emerging diseases share a connection between humans and animals. Now more than ever, it is important that we recognize that the health of humans, animals and the environment are interconnected and dependent on each other," said Padilla.

Administering Vaccine

Animals at the Saint Louis Zoo receive daily, year-round care from teams of professional animal care experts, including keepers, nutritionists, veterinarians, behavioral researchers and others. Preventive medical care, such as vaccination against disease, blood tests, radiographs, nail trims, dental cleaning and more, are essential to ensure the best quality of life for the animals.

Many animals voluntarily participate in their own healthcare through extensive, positive reinforcement training by keepers. Some animals are trained to accept vaccines by hand-injection in the comfort and safety of their own habitat. Training typically starts with a placebo when the animal is younger and becomes part of their routine care. When they are old enough, the placebo is replaced with the vaccine. This training allows the Zoo to have a very comprehensive immunization program with voluntary participation of the animals.

Other animals may receive necessary vaccines during wellness exams under anesthesia at the Zoo Veterinary Hospital.

"We are in regular communication with zoo veterinarians around the country to share information about vaccine administration, side effects and positive cases," said Chinnadurai. "Disease transmission from humans to animals and from animals to humans is common and not new. Vaccination and PPE, like masking, is important to limit the spread of many diseases. We have always practiced routine PPE usage with primates and other species."

Dedicated to Animal Care

Follow the blog series "Dedicated to Animal Care" at stlzoo.org/blog for more stories from the Zoo's animal care professionals and showcasing the excellent care provided for the over 12,000 animals at the Saint Louis Zoo.

About Zoetis' COVID-19 Vaccine

Zoetis, a global animal health company headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the distributor of the vaccine, has donated 11,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to dozens of zoos, including the Saint Louis Zoo, and animal organizations across the nation.

Experimental use of this COVID-19 vaccine from Zoetis is authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Missouri State Veterinarian.

Zoetis' research and development team applied decades of experience developing other coronavirus vaccines for cats, dogs, poultry and cattle. The vaccine has been used safely in dogs, cats, mink, gorillas, and orangutan and other species. No significant adverse effects have been reported.

About the Saint Louis Zoo

Home to over 12,000 animals, representing 500 species, the Saint Louis Zoo is recognized worldwide for its innovative approaches to animal care and management, wildlife conservation, research, and education. One of the few free zoos in the nation, the Saint Louis Zoo attracts approximately 3 million visitors annually and is the most-visited attraction in the region. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Saint Louis Zoo is part of an elite group of institutions that meet the highest standards in animal care as well as provide fun, safe and educational family experiences. The Saint Louis Zoo and the other AZA-accredited institutions collectively dedicate millions of dollars annually to support scientific research, conservation and education programs. For more information, visit stlzoo.org.