Nadia had a cough. A dry cough, to be specific, and it wasn’t just her. The 4-year-old Malayan tiger lives in an exhibit in the Bronx Zoo with her sister, Azul, who had also started coughing at the end of March. Altogether, seven of the zoo’s big cats appeared ill, two Amur tigers and three African lions in addition to Nadia and Azul. They neglected their meals. They wheezed. And they worried their keepers. Fears over the spread of the coronavirus had already led the zoo to close its doors to the public starting in mid-March. Once Nadia and the other cats began showing symptoms, the remaining staff wanted to find the source of their malaise.
“Nadia was not coming around and was getting a little worse, so we anesthetized her in order to treat her,” Bronx Zoo veterinarian Paul Calle says. “We did x-rays and ultrasounds. We did blood work. We ran lots of tests, panels for normal domestic cat infectious diseases.” Although the Covid-19 pandemic had hit humans living in areas around the zoo hard, it wasn’t initially assumed to be the likely culprit. After all, no animal in the United States had been known to catch the disease. It wasn’t even clear a tiger could contract it. But with so many cases in the city, the team decided to test for SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, just to be sure.
Within a few days, Nadia had