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The tiger is a 4-year-old female from Malaysia, officials said. Three other tigers and three African lions also have developed a dry cough and were expected to recover, according to the zoo, which has been closed to the public since March 16.
The National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the tiger's positive COVID-19 test.
"We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution" and aimed to "contribute to the world's continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus," Dr. Paul Calle, the zoo's chief veterinarian, said.
"Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers," Wildlife Conservation Society [WCS], which has managed the Bronx Zoo, announced in a statement. "It is not known how this disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections, but we will continue to monitor them closely and anticipate full recoveries."
WCS added that an employee who'd showed no symptoms while caring for the cats infected the tiger.
"Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats," the organization added.
U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] officials have said there were no known cases of the virus in U.S. pets or livestock.
"It's important to assure pet owners and animal owners that at this time there isn't any evidence that they can spread the virus," Dr. Jane Rooney, a veterinarian and USDA official, said.
Health experts said the coronavirus outbreaks around the world have been driven by person-to-person transmission.
There have been some reports of pets outside the U.S. becoming infected after close contact with contagious people. In Hong Kong, a dog tested positive for a low level of the pathogen in February and early March. Hong Kong agriculture officials concluded that pet dogs and cats couldn't pass the coronavirus to humans but could test positive if their owners exposed them to the virus.
Some researchers have been trying to understand the susceptibility of different animal species to the virus, and to determine how it spreads among animals, according to the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.