The Asian small-clawed otters at Georgia Aquarium have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They began exhibiting mild respiratory symptoms including sneezing, runny noses, mild lethargy, and coughing. While the Asian small-clawed otters are geriatric, they are already improving and expected to make a full recovery. They are off exhibit and being cared for behind-the-scenes by the Aquarium’s expert animal health and animal care teams.
“Our Asian small-clawed otters are under very close monitoring by veterinarians and animal care team members. They have displayed only mild symptoms and we expect them all to make a full recovery,” said Dr. Tonya Clauss, vice president of animal and environmental health at Georgia Aquarium. “We are providing supportive care as needed so they can eat, rest and recover.”
The decision to test the Asian small-clawed otters for COVID-19 was made based on the clinical signs in the entire group. Georgia Aquarium veterinarians consulted with the state veterinarians’ office and the department of health.
Despite following all recommended health and safety protocols, it is suspected the otters may have acquired the infection from an asymptomatic staff member. Out of an abundance of caution, all staff who have been in contact with the otters have been tested. The risk of animal-to-human transmission is incredibly rare. The Asian small-clawed otters at the Aquarium do not have direct contact with guests and have always been behind acrylic barriers, separating them from guests. The otters will continue to be monitored and once they are no longer positive for COVID-19, it will then be determined when they will go back on exhibit.
Information on the impact of COVID-19 in otter species is unknown. Based on other zoological facility animals and the Aquarium’s small-clawed otters’ health status, it is anticipated there will not be any long-term health issues from COVID-19. Any additional updates on the otters will be provided as it becomes available.