This California Zoo Is Vaccinating Its Animals Against COVID-19

Lions, tigers, and bears are all getting shots.

California's Oakland Zoo has vaccinated some of its larger animals against COVID-19, using a new experimental vaccine specifically formulated for animals.

The first animals at the zoo to receive their vaccinations were two tigers named Ginger and Molly. The tigers were chosen because large cats are particularly susceptible to contracting the virus.

So far, the Oakland Zoo has vaccinated tigers, grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, and ferrets against the disease. The vaccine is a precaution, although none of the animals at the zoo has contracted the virus.

There "are real cases where animals have become mildly sick, gravely ill or even died, and that's why we're being so proactive," Dr. Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services at Oakland Zoo, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Because many of the animals at the Oakland Zoo are endangered species, zookeepers have developed a "species survival plan," which includes vaccinating them against potential disease.

"We take our stewardship very seriously," Dr. Herman told the newspaper.

The Oakland Zoo will also vaccinate a chimpanzee, lions, and two hyenas. A total of 110 animals are expected to receive the vaccine.

The vaccine was developed by Zoetis, an animal health company, which is donating more than 11,000 doses of the vaccine to nearly 70 zoos and other organizations like sanctuaries and conservatories in 27 different states.

a tiger yawns in its habitat at the Oakland Zoo
Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty

For the animals at the Oakland Zoo, the COVID-19 vaccine is just like any other. The animals are used to receiving preventative care like vaccines and are trained to "voluntarily participate in their medical care," Dr. Herman said. For example, during the treatment, tigers receive "positive reinforcement with goat's milk squirted into their mouths" while zookeepers "are at the tiger's haunch" with the vaccine.

Last year, a tiger at New York's Bronx Zoo tested positive for COVID-19. Health officials believed that the animals came in contact with an asymptomatic zoo employee who was carrying the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also noted that cats, dogs and other pets have contracted COVID-19 from humans, but there is no need for them to be vaccinated because they are not actively spreading the disease.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at

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