Tiger tests positive for coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo in New York City

Tiger tests positive for coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo in New York City

A tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the new coronavirus, said today federal officials and the zoo in what is believed to be the first confirmed infection in an animal in the United States or a tiger anywhere.

A zoo employee is thought to have contaminated the four-year-old Malayan tiger, and six other tigers and lions that have also fallen ill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

The first animal started showing signs on March 27, and all are expected to recover, said the zoo, which since March 16 has been closed to the public.

"We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution" and aim to "contribute to the world's continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus", said Dr Paul Calle, the zoo's chief veterinarian.

The finding raises new concerns about animals transmitting the virus. There are no confirmed cases of the virus in American pets or livestock, the USDA reports.

"It's important to assure pet owners and animal owners that at this time there isn't any evidence that they can spread the virus," Dr Jane Rooney, a veterinarian and a USDA official, said.

Across the world coronavirus outbreaks are driven by transmission from person to person, experts say.

A small number of pets outside the United States were confirmed to become infected after close contact with infectious individuals, including a Hong Kong dog who tested positive for a low pathogen level in February and early March.

Agricultural authorities in Hong Kong concluded that pet dogs and cats could not pass the virus on to humans but could test positive if their owners exposed it.

According to the World Organization for Animal Health based in Paris, several researchers have tried to understand the susceptibility of different animal species to the virus, and to determine how it spreads among animals.

The coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms for most people, such as a fever and cough which will clear up in two to three weeks. It can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and can be fatal for some, particularly older adults and people.