By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor
Yes, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the novel coronavirus. And yes, a cat in Belgium had traces of the virus’s genome in its stool and vomit.
But to be perfectly clear: There is no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to people. One study, from a veterinary diagnostic lab, tested thousands of samples from dogs and cats, and found no cases of the disease. And an early version of a report on a small experiment testing whether the virus could spread between cats found that it can—but it does not suggest that cats are an important vector in spreading disease among humans. With more than 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 globally, experts say that if pets were a significant vector, we’d know by now.
“This is almost exclusively a human-to-human transmitted disease,” Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medicine Association, told NBC affiliates. “The risk to pets is very low, with only a handful of cases of the virus appearing in companion animals, and no cases of people getting sick from their pets.”
There is a small chance that a sick person could give the virus to certain animals. We now know tigers (and probably lions) are susceptible to it, and cats and dogs as well. But the number of reported human-to-animal cases is very small. Still, to be extra safe, if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, experts say you should restrict your contact with pets and other animals, just as you should with people.
At least until we know more. Scientists are rushing to figure out what other species the virus might be able to infect, but there are so many factors to consider, it’ll be awhile before we know for sure.
In the meantime, washing your hands before and after interacting with a pet—same as you would with a fellow human—is the safest thing to do.
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Peek-a-boo! Meet 12-year-old giant panda Si Xue from the Wolong Nature Center in China’s Sichuan Province. Here, photographer Ami Vitale captures the panda exploring her enclosure. China has been successful in breeding captive pandas; the next step is putting them in the wild.
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Today in a minute
Not COVID-19 hand-washing: Sandra the orangutan’s viral hand-washing video, shot in November but misrepresented as coronavirus-related, is a cautionary tale for people who may be fooled by the out-of-context appropriation of videos on social media. Such fake feel-good efforts also hurt conservation efforts, Nat Geo’s Natasha Daly reports. How? If people feel tricked or foolish for believing in an inspiring animal story that turns out to be fake, they may lose interest in conservation.
Centenarians? After determining that one whale shark lived 50 years, a researcher says it’s probable that members of the species could live twice that long, Liz Langley reports for Nat Geo. The longevity of the largest fish in the sea—a whale shark, which can grow up to 60 feet long—still pales in comparison to the Greenland shark, which can live up to 300 years.
The mystery of Golden Eagle 1703: Biologist Steve Lewis had tagged the apex predator as a nestling in Alaska—and followed its pings thousands of miles for 18 months. Then the movement stopped. The protected bird was found dead in South Dakota. Why? Not electrocuted, starved, or decapitated by wind turbines. Not shot. The cause of death: rat poison, the Guardian reports.
Bleaching along the Great Barrier Reef: For the first time, there is coral bleaching along the entire length of the majestic reef off Australia, the New York Times reports. To blame: the rising water temperatures along the 1,500-mile-long natural wonder. The data, released Monday, “amounts to an updated X-ray for a dying patient, with the markers of illness being the telltale white of coral that has lost its color, visible from the air and in the water,” the Times’ Damian Cave reports.
The big takeaway
The parade of the rats: As humans cower inside, humbled by the deadly coronavirus, rats (including this critter in a New York City storm drain) are foraging more boldly in search of food. Watch your stash of nonperishables, warns Emma Marris for Nat Geo. Secure trash cans. Seal cracks under doors and openings to the outside. Remember, if things really go badly, exterminators are considered essential employees. But we may just have to deal with it for a while, Marris writes. For their part, the urban owls, raptors, and coyotes are happy to see more rats: “At least in the short term,” she writes, “these predators may be the kings of the urban jungle, getting fat and happy in the quiet streets.”
Overheard at Nat Geo: Rats and humans—a love story
In a few words
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Beyond the sting: Are warming seas and overfishing making it easier for jellyfish to thrive? Or are we just reporting their floating presence more broadly? Those are the questions Elizabeth Kolbert has examined in this Nat Geo story. “Anytime we have an adverse encounter with jellyfish, it’s because humans have invaded the oceans,” says Steve Haddock, senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Jellyfish, Kolbert concludes, “are only doing what they’ve been doing generation after generation for hundreds of millions of years—just pulsing along, silently, brainlessly, and, seen in the right light, gorgeously.” (Above, Pacific sea nettles)
Subscriber exclusive: Scary, squishy, brainless, beautiful: inside the world of jellyfish