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Hippos at Antwerp Zoo test positive for corona, the first in the world

14:14 06/12/2021

Antwerp Zoo's two hippopotamuses have tested positive for Covid-19. It is the first known case of the virus in a hippopotamus and only the 15th animal species in the world to test positive.

Mother Hermien and daughter Imani both have runny noses – no small thing in a hippopotamus – but both are in good condition, according to zookeepers. Hippos always have wet noses, but their keepers noticed cold-like symptoms and had the mucus tested for bacteria. The test came back negative.

“But considering the current situation, I took the extra step of testing the sample for Covid-19,” says zoo veterinarian Francis Vercammen. “It’s an unexpected result. As far as I know, this is the first Covid infection in this kind of animal. It mostly affects primates and cat species.”

Indeed, of the 14 other animal species that have tested positive for Covid around the world, six are cat species, including lions, tigers and domestic cats. Other species to test positive for the coronavirus include mink, gorillas and white-tailed deer.

In quarantine

It is unknown how Hermien , 41, and Imani, 14, became infected. All of their carers at the zoo have tested negative. All zoo workers, in fact, undergo daily corona tests.

Visitors will not be able to wish the hippos well because they were immediately put in quarantine. “We have taken other safety precautions as well,” says Vercammen. “Besides wearing facemasks and disinfecting their shoes, the caregivers are now wearing safety goggles in the presence of the animals and are avoiding contact with colleagues and with other animals.”

As for that sample, hippos are tested for the coronavirus the same as humans – with a swab up the nose. “And then you have to watch out because they will give a snort,” the caregiver who was lucky enough to get the job told VRT. “And then you can get showered with snot.”

Photo ©Jonas Verhulst


Written by Lisa Bradshaw