Updated on Tuesday at 9:41 p.m. ET
A gorilla at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, Calif., underwent monoclonal antibody therapy after contracting COVID-19 this month.
Winston, an elderly silverback gorilla, and two other troop members tested positive for the coronavirus after they had symptoms such as mild coughing. "The virus was confirmed in 3 gorillas and we assume they all were exposed," Nadine Lamberski, the zoo's chief conservation and wildlife health officer, told NPR in an email. She said all the troop members were managed accordingly.
Veterinary staff, concerned about Winston's age and underlying medical conditions, performed a diagnostic examination on him, a zoo statement said. He was found to have pneumonia and heart disease.
Great news: Our gorilla troop is eating, drinking, interacting and on their way to a full recovery after the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans. Full update: https://t.co/jb9pKVirTq pic.twitter.com/TuVGmlNtjl— San Diego Zoo Safari Park (@sdzsafaripark) January 25, 2021
Zoo staff consulted with specialists before treating the gorilla with heart medications, antibiotics and monoclonal antibody therapy. A news release said the antibody treatment administered was not permitted for human use.
"Treatment with these synthetic versions of the body's natural defenses is thought to be effective in diminishing effects from the virus," the release said. "The veterinary team who treated Winston believe the antibodies may have contributed to his ability to overcome the virus."
Additionally, the veterinary staff was provided with a limited supply of a "recombinant purified spike protein vaccine" intended for protecting animals against the coronavirus — also not intended for human use. Zoo staff members have begun identifying animal candidates for the vaccine at the Safari Park as well as at their San Diego Zoo location.
The eight gorillas in the troop are doing well — eating, drinking and socially interacting their way toward a full recovery. But it was a team effort. The zoo worked with wildlife care specialists, public health experts and scientific leaders to tend to the troop. In hopes of helping additional wildlife, the lessons learned in treating the gorillas have been passed on to over 200 zoos worldwide.