Over a year and a half after the first SARS-CoV-2 case was documented in a tiger, there has been a dramatic uptick in these infections in non-domestic felids. As of November 1, 2021, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been documented in the following non-domestic felid species: tigers, lions, pumas, snow leopards, Amur leopards, and fishing cats.
Many of the recent cases of SARS-CoV-2 in non-domestic felids have been confirmed to be infections with the Delta variant. Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 fatalities have now been confirmed in both lions and snow leopards. Similar to what has been observed in humans, the Delta variant appears to be more easily transmitted and may cause more serious disease in non-domestic felids.
The Felid Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) released updated guidance for working around non-domestic felid species during the COVID-19 pandemic on October 29, 2021 in response to these new developments. You can read the updated guidance here or access it using the button at the top of this post.
The susceptibility of snow leopards to the Delta variant is of particular concern, as the Snow Leopard SSP is receiving reports of fatal disease in snow leopards from multiple institutions related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Morbidity and mortality has occurred despite institutional protocols (vaccinated staff, PPE, etc.) that were in place prior to and/or during these events.
While detailed data is not available, these trends are concerning, and we feel it is important to alert holding institutions to the potential that SARS-CoV-2 may carry a higher risk for morbidity and mortality in snow leopards.
You can read the recommendations of the Snow Leopard Veterinary Advisory Group for institutions caring for snow leopards here or access it using the button at the top of this post.