Following the USDA’s confirmation of COVID-19 in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo, the Emperor Valley Zoo in Trinidad and Tobago—and by extension the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ZSTT)—are giving assurances that they doing everything possible to keep the animals at the local zoo COVID-19 free.

In the official statement issued this morning, President of the Emperor Valley Zoo, Narine Gupte Lutchmedial, notes that the Emperor Valley Zoo took stringent measures to protect the animals, staff and members of the public early on, to ensure there was no inter-species transmission of the novel coronavirus in its sphere of influence.

Mr Lutchmedial also notes that closing the Zoo in mid-March, well ahead of other zoos around the world, was part of several protocols it has put in place to ensure safety of all its charges.

The full text of Mr Lutchmedial’s statement, follows…


Emperor Valley Zoo Monitoring of COVID-19—Impact on Zoo Animals

The Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ZSTT), is the operator of the Emperor Valley Zoo which houses several primates, and large and local cats including lions, tigers, ocelots and jaguars. There are other animals with similar biological characteristics as these animals.

Since late 2019 the ZSTT has been alert to the presence of a new coronavirus strain and our preparations were in line with our response to MERS and SARS before. On account of this we have been in regular contact with the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries and other global partners including the Zoological Association of America (ZAA).

The first major step taken by the ZSTT in respect of the arrival of COVID-19 in Trinidad and Tobago was to close the Emperor Valley Zoo from Sunday March 15, 2020 for one week initially. Since then the Zoo remains closed. As we advised then, this decision was made at a time when Zoos remained open around the world but our decision was in line with the statement of the Honourable Prime Minister about limited activity in public places. Since then the Zoo has been identified as essential work in the context of the Stay At Home campaign and COVID-19 Regulations. We operate on a revised shift system to ensure that animals are fed and looked after, and the facilities are secured and sanitized.

The ZSTT has considered both the statement issued yesterday by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) and the one issued last night by the Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries with our advice.

The Ministry of Health is the country’s authority on all matters concerning COVID-19, including this one. We are already in consultations with Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries on the likely impact for Trinidad and Tobago of this development at the Bronx Zoo.

At this time these are the key points we wish to share with our citizens, based on information currently in the public domain:

– this positive test at the Bronx Zoo is the first instance of a tiger being infected with COVID-19;

– samples from the tiger at the Bronx Zoo were taken and tested after several lions and tigers at that Zoo showed symptoms of respiratory illness;

– the USDA says public health officials believe these large cats became sick after being exposed to a zoo employee who was actively shedding virus;

– the Bronx Zoo has been closed to the public since mid-March, and the first tiger began showing signs of sickness on March 27;

– all of these large cats are expected to recover;

– there is no evidence that other animals in other areas of the Bronx Zoo are showing symptoms;

– there is still no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from animal to human;

– the Emperor Valley Zoo was closed on March 15, 2020 as a precautionary measure even before zoos around the world were closing;

– employees at the Emperor Valley Zoo who interact with the animals, particularly the primates, have been undergoing health surveillance in line with COVID-19 guidelines and this continues;

– none of the animals at the Emperor Valley Zoo show symptoms associated with COVID-19;

– the ZSTT together with the Emperor Valley Zoo and the Chief Vet Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries continue to monitor all developments globally in connection with COVID-19 and animals;

– there have been a handful of reports outside the US of pet dogs or cats becoming infected after close contact with contagious people, including a Hong Kong dog that tested positive for a low level of the pathogen in February and early March;

– the ZSTT and Emperor Valley Zoo are in direct contact with the Zoological Association of the Americas and John Seyjagat its T&T-born CEO and ZSTT Board member;

– the ZAA is committed to providing Trinidad and Tobago with technical support on this issue as it develops;

– the ZSTT would be guided by the Ministry of Health on this matter;

A further statement on this matter would be provided by the Ministry of Health.

Narine Lutchmedial
Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ZSTT)