GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As West Michigan continues the process of returning to some version of normal post-pandemic, some of the animals at John Ball Zoo will soon be further protected from the virus as they receive doses of a specially designed COVID-19 vaccine.
The crowds of families and class field trips have finally returned to the city's beloved John Ball Zoo. Despite a little ongoing construction, they have mostly returned to normal operations.
As the pandemic weens, zoo staff is still being careful when closely interacting with those animals that can potentially catch the virus.
“When COVID-19 first came about, we were definitely from the get-go watching our primates very carefully because those species tend to be susceptible to the same diseases we are,” said Dr. Ryan Colburn, a veterinarian at John Ball Zoo.
And now in the coming weeks and months, some of their animals will be receiving COVID-19 vaccines.
“The design of the vaccine was made so that it can cross-species, so it is designed to be not an aspect of the virus itself, in terms of, we're not giving them a risk of making them infected,” Dr. Colburn said.
It's not the same type of vaccine that people are receiving, but a special shot specifically designed for animals. The vaccine that John Ball Zoo is getting will work for various species, meaning all of their chimps and big cats will be receiving the same vaccine.
In addition to their chimpanzees, their lions, tigers, snow leopards, and small carnivores are all susceptible to the virus.
"Those are groups that we learned as we went," Dr. Colburn explained Friday.
"So as those first cases started to pop up, then zoos across the country really worked together to share information and react pretty quickly.”
John Ball Zoo hasn't had any cases of COVID-19 in their animal population, but the symptoms that animals at other zoos have experienced are fairly close to what humans have been dealing with.
“It has been similar, although the disease has been more mild, So the cases we've seen, there have been mostly mild respiratory signs," Dr. Colburn said.
As the doses arrive on-site at the zoo, staff will work their vaccinations into their established routines, as to not add extra stress.
“All of our big cats are trained to come up to the mesh to work with their keepers and just receive an injection, so that will be a really low-stress situation,” Dr. Colburn said.
“Some of our other animals, we'll probably tie it to their routine physicals. So, when we're going to anesthetize them, have them here at the hospital under anesthesia for an exam, we'll add that vaccination to their care plan for that day.”
You can find out all about the latest things happening at John Ball Zoo by visiting their website.