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Zookeepers are taking extra steps to protect orangutans from COVID-19

COVID-19 could infect great apes
Posted: 11:02 PM, Mar 26, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-26 23:22:07-04
Zookeepers feeding the orangutans.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic impacting our planet is not stopping zookeepers with ZooTampa at Lowry Park from caring for and feeding the 1,100 animals that call the grounds home.

The zoo, like many other businesses, is closed indefinitely. Support staff continues to do their jobs day in and day out. The big difference, the paths are empty, filled in with the occasional group of vultures passing through.

It is eerily quiet, and it appears the animals realize it too.

“I’m sure they notice a difference,” Tiffany Burns, Associate Curator at ZooTampa at Lowry Park, said. “It’s hard to say how they feel about it. But, they continue to get everything that’s normal to them except having the public here.”

Spring break is supposed to be the busiest time of the year. There are only two days a year the zoo closes, Thanksgiving and Christmas. When we rounded the corner out of the Africa exhibit, we noticed a giraffe staring right at us, seemingly following our every move. It was the first time the giraffe has seen anyone other than zoo staff for more than a week.

Burns said staff is taking extra precautions when they work together to care for the animals and are taking additional measures not to infect any of their great apes.

“Because we are so close in DNA and we do share a lot of the same diseases with great apes, we are taking extra precaution when working with them and making sure things are kept at a distance as much as possible gloves mask all the same things we are doing with people,” Burns said.

We watched the troop of eight orangutans during an afternoon feeding. They stretched their arms out for food, the babies catching fruit tossed their way—the zookeeper wearing masks and gloves to protect the animals.

Smithsonian Magazine and the journal Nature reporting on the risks of human-ape infection.

Burns doesn’t know how long the zoo will be closed. But, whenever they reopen, staff and animals will be ready for visitors.

“We are very excited to get back open excited for things to go back to normal,” Burns said.

ZooTampa at Lowry Park is an independent 501 (c)(3) charitable organization. If you would like to support the zoo during these troubling times, click here.