Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The shigella bacteria outbreak that claimed the lives of a gorilla and three siamangs at the ABQ BioPark Zoo in recent months, is under control and no new illnesses among the zoo’s animals have been found, zoo officials said last week.
Dr. Carol Bradford, the zoo’s senior veterinarian, said 16 primates at the zoo were affected by shigella, which is a gastrointestinal illness that can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramping, loss of appetite and lethargy. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and, in some instances, such as occurred at the BioPark Zoo, even death.
The shigella bacteria affects humans and primates, and is found in the fecal matter of infected individuals, Bradford said. It is transmitted via the fecal-oral route and is commonly passed along in contaminated food or water, or by contact with contaminated surfaces.
“It can be transmitted from animal to animal by tools that zookeepers use to clean, it can be transmitted on people’s feet, it can be transmitted on people’s hands,” Bradford said. “It’s even been reported that flies can transmit the bacteria.”
Because there has been an increase in human cases of shigella in New Mexico this past summer, Bradford said, the zoo has been consulting with the state Department of Health “and we’re following their investigation to find out if there’s a common source between cases.”
DOH spokesman David Morgan confirmed that there had been “an uptick” of human cases of shigella in New Mexico. “We’re still trying to determine the source for the shigella outbreak, and we’re continuing to work closely with the BioPark and the city of Albuquerque,” he said.
Primates at the zoo began showing signs of the illness in early August. Antibiotics and fluids were immediately administered and those with the most severe symptoms were isolated in their private enclosures, Bradford said. “We stopped keepers from going between buildings and we increased the personal protective equipment that keepers were wearing,” which included Tyvek suits, in addition to the changing boots, masks and gloves that they had already been doing for COVID prevention.
Further, the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting the primate habitats and private enclosures was increased to multiple times each day, Bradford said.
Currently, only one gorilla, 16-year-old Hasani, remains under observation. Because he no longer has symptoms, he has been returned to his exhibit habitat with the other gorillas, but his appetite “is not back to 100%,” she said.
Among the primate deaths was 48-year-old female western lowland gorilla Huerfanita; siamang Brian, a 32-year-old male, and his mate, Johore, a 30-year-old female; and the youngest of their offspring, a male named Rue, who was born June 12.
Rue’s brother, Eerie, 4, is the only siamang remaining at the zoo and he won’t be there long. Zoo manager Lynn Tupa said siamangs, like most primates, are social creatures and need to be in the company of other siamangs. Consequently, he will be placed with another zoo in the Southwest where he can be part of a larger siamang social group.
Until the zoo can bring in more siamangs, Tupa said their large habitat will provide an opportunity to move some animals around and temporarily give them more room.
The ABQ BioPark Zoo currently has more than 30 primates on display. In addition to gorillas and the one remaining siamang, there are chimpanzees, orangutans, lemurs, golden lion tamarins and howler monkeys.