Seven otters at the Georgia Aquarium were in isolation in late April 2021 after an undisclosed number tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
According to a news release released on April 18, aquarium staff opted to test the Asian small-clawed otters after they began exhibiting mild respiratory symptoms related to infection, like sneezing, runny noses, mild lethargy and coughing.
“Our Asian small-clawed otters are under very close monitoring by veterinarians and animal care team members. They have displayed only mild symptoms and we expect them all to make a full recovery,” said Tonya Clauss, vice president of animal and environmental health at Georgia Aquarium. “We are providing supportive care as needed so they can eat, rest and recover.”
It is thought that the otters may have been infected by an asymptomatic staff member. To ensure their healthy recovery, all seven otters were taken off exhibit. In an email sent to Snopes, the aquarium confirmed that all of its Asian small-clawed otters were behind-the-scenes at the time of this writing, but did not respond to questions about how many.
“The Asian small-clawed otters at the Aquarium do not have direct contact with guests and have always been behind acrylic barriers, separating them from guests,” wrote the aquarium. “The otters will continue to be monitored, and once they are no longer positive for COVID-19, it will then be determined when they will go back on exhibit.”
Though the otters are geriatric, the aquarium said that all the animals had improved and were expected to make a full recovery.
The effects of COVID-19 on otters are unknown and while the risk of human-to-animal infection is rare, it is not unheard of. At the onset of the pandemic in April 2020, tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. In late 2020, Denmark culled 17 million minks in response to outbreaks at more than 200 mink farms, and in April 2021, the Virginia Zoo reported that three tigers had also tested positive for the virus (though all are expected to make a full recovery.)
Pet cats and dogs have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an informational sheet about what to do if a dog or cat begins exhibiting symptoms.