Educational Series: Learn How to Protect Animals From Deadly Coronavirus

Earlier this month Nadia, a tiger at the Bronx Zoo, earned an unwelcome distinction: the majestic big cat became the first animal in the United States to officially test positive for COVID-19. Nadia was tested after she, four other tigers, and two lions at the zoo began exhibiting symptoms like the dry cough associated with COVID-19. The likelihood that the virus was passed from a human to the cats raises some important questions for animal lovers. How does COVID-19 affect the other species around us? What will the consequences of the disease be for wildlife? And how can both animals and people be protected from future outbreaks of germs that infect across species?

Like many other diseases–including avian influenza, Ebola virus, and Zika virus, to name a few–COVID-19 is suspected to have originally spread to humans from an animal carrier. In the case of COVID-19, this likely happened in a wildlife meat market in Wuhan, China. Though it is unknown exactly what animal carried the virus, researchers suspect it may have been transferred from a bat to a pangolin–a commonly trafficked animal–and from there to a person. Yet while it is certain that the virus can be transmitted back and forth between humans and at least some animals, the frequency with which this happens is less clear.

Since first infecting the human population in Wuhan, the subsequent appearance of COVID-19 around the world has been entirely or almost entirely a result of the virus spreading from person to person. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that transmission of the virus from animals to humans is rare; we would expect such a thing would most likely happen in an environment like a wildlife market, where people come into very close contact with a variety of live or recently-killed animals. There are no known cases of the virus being spread from humans to pets in the United States, although a few instances of this happening have been reported from other countries. The CDC also states that “To date, there is no evidence that pets can spread the virus to people.”

In short, if you are a pet owner you probably don’t need to be concerned about catching COVID-19 from your pet; in fact, the reverse is more likely to happen (though the chances are still low). To be on the safe side, the CDC recommends keeping some distance between yourself and your animals if you think you might have symptoms of infection or if you’ve been exposed to people who do.

Another question is whether and how COVID-19 might spread from humans to wild animals. There is much we simply don’t know about the virus and which animal species are most likely to be susceptible to it. However, it seems reasonable to guess it might spread more easily from humans to animals who are closely related to us, such as great apes. This possibility is especially worrying, considering that all six great ape species are already endangered and at high risk of extinction. The risk is great enough that conservation groups are recommending urgent action to prevent the potential exposure of apes in places where they come into close contact with humans (for example, countries in Central Africa and Southeast Asia where agriculture is expanding into wild ape habitat).

Finally, as governments and organizations around the world battle to get the spread of COVID-19 under control, we should be thinking about how to prevent the next global pandemic before it starts. Fully 75% of new infectious diseases are zoonoses, viruses that originate with animals and end up infecting humans. The majority of these zoonoses came originally from wild animals, and the obvious way to prevent this happening in the future is to limit close contact between these wild species and humans. This means cracking down on the wild meat and exotic pet trades. It also means acting to prevent the continued encroachment of agriculture and other human activities into wildlife habitat.

Fortunately, there are some early signs that governments are waking up to the danger of future zoonoses outbreaks. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic China is implementing a ban on consumption and farming of wild animals. Vietnam is working on similar legislation. While questions remain about how effectively such measures will be enforced, they are undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

At the same time, even though the COVID-19 outbreak originated in China it would be a grave mistake to think that curbing zoonoses is the sole responsibility of Asian countries. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the United States is one of the largest contributors to the global wildlife trade, accounting for an estimated 20% of the global market. Yet in the wake of COVID-19, the U.S. government has not taken any new action against this destructive trade on the scale of what China and Vietnam have proposed. To truly stem the trade in exotic wildlife and their parts, more action will be needed from the U.S. as well as other countries.

Also, just to be completely clear: the fact that the current pandemic began in China in no way means communities of Chinese descent are more likely to harbor the virus in the U.S. This is a racist myth which has unfortunately spread on social media, but has no basis in reality and does absolutely nothing to protect people or animals from the virus. There is also no reason at all to think culling wild bats, pangolins, or other already-threatened wildlife would do anything to prevent future disease outbreaks. The chances of an animal who is living undisturbed in its natural habitat transmitting a virus to humans is infinitesimally tiny; the real problem is people encroaching into animals’ space and putting both us and them at unnecessary risk.

If there is any silver lining to the tragedy of the global COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps it is that it has given us a chance to re-think our relationship with the non-human animal species with whom we share this planet. Just as social distancing between people has become a household word, we as a species need to start maintaining a respectful distance between ourselves and wild creatures. This certainly doesn’t mean you have to avoid spending time in wild places or isolate yourself from the natural world, but it does mean giving wild animals enough space to go about their lives in peace.

As for Nadia and the other tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo, they are receiving careful attention from veterinarians and are expected to recover.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  • The Premium Challenge

    We'll donate animal shelter meals for every correct answer:

    This week's challenge...Learn How to Protect Animals From Deadly Coronavirus.

    How much do you know?

    One of our core beliefs is that education leads to positive change. That is why we have the Educational Series. To make learning more fun, we are donating meals to animal shelters for every correct answer submitted by our Premium Members!

    While everyone can study our educational materials and take our quizzes, only Premium Members will have shelter meals donated for correct answers.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Wait, there’s one more step:

Over 1,058,360 Animal Shelter Meals Donated So Far –

Upgrade to a Premium Membership to get a free No Excuse For Animal Abuse shirt, feed shelter animals with the Educational Series and Meal Wheel, sign 100’s of petitions with one-click, remove ads, and promote your favorite petitions to millions!

7 day money-back guarantee for new members. Zero risk.

Premium Membership comes with the following perks:

• Get a free No Excuse For Animal Abuse shirt.
• Feed shelter animals by spinning the Meal Wheel.
• Sign 100’s of petitions with one-click.
• Feed shelter animals with the Educational Series quizzes.
• Ad-free browsing and voting on which petitions are displayed to millions of people.

Our Guarantee:

Cancel your subscription for any reason within 7 days and we’ll refund 100% of your money, as long as you’re a first time member.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How are the animal shelter meals donated?

We donate shelter meals through Rescue Bank because they research all shelters, maintain equitable distribution, and track the meals from their facilities all the way to the rescue groups. This ensures that the donation will be utilized in the most efficient and impacting way.

Why don’t we just donate meals without providing any perks like the Meal Wheel?

We’ve been at this since 2008 and have learned that to really make a difference, we need to get people excited and engaged. Our mission is a serious one, but our methods are playful and educational. We’re serious about doing good, but also want to make it fun.

Who are we?

We are a family of sites that works to protect animals, the environment, and more. Our sites include and We’ve been at this for over a decade and are dedicated to protecting and defending animals and the environment. If we can have some fun and improve the world, then we’re accomplishing our goal!

Try Premium!

We’ve Been Doing This for Over a Decade and Others Have Taken Notice:

7 Day Guarantee!


“Thank you SO much for the premium feature of being able to sign multiple petitions with one click. Many of us go for hours at a time signing each and every petition and crying as we read them. I have often wished for a way to sign my name on every petition because I passionately support them and they all need our voice. This is the best thing – thank you very much!” -Karilyn K., Premium Member

“This is just the most amazing wonderful service that makes me so happy! To be able to feed shelter pets is just the greatest feeling. Thanks again for this, and for all you do for the most innocent and helpless among us, the animals. I’m lovestruck.” Sandra Z., Premium Member

“I love the upgrade option and I am so glad I did enables me to stand with you and many others to fight for the justice these precious souls deserve! We are their voice!!!! And....I adore helping to feed them as well! The spin the wheel game is fun....and I like doing it everyday to help! Keep up the wonderful work....and I know....every click makes a difference!” Dorothy B., Premium Member

“I am so excited to become a Premium Member and to have one-click signing, as I was spending countless hours signing petitions...not that I mind doing it, but my goodness, there sure are a lot of them. I always hope that my signature somehow helps, because these people that abuse/torture animals, need to be put away. As you can tell, that is my passion, I have such a heart for animals, and I want to be their voice.” Darlene R., Premium Member

“Thank you so much! I love being a premium member and spinning that wheel every day, especially when I land on 4 or, best of all, 5 meals. Thank you for all you do, we are all so grateful for you.” Sandy T., Premium Member

“With deepest Aloha, You have no idea how grateful I am for you!” Jan L., Premium Member

“Thank you for the Premium Membership option. I really appreciate that I can sign multiple petitions with one click. It's great! Thank you for the work you do.” Ashley H., Premium Member

“I absolutely love the Educational Series!” Yvonne L., Premium Member

"I am a premium member and religiously sign every petition. THANK YOU for this platform. I also vote for the petition nearest my heart, sometimes voting globally, sometimes I am caught by an individual animal's plight. What gives me great pleasure is noting that almost always, the percentages have no more than a 6-7% spread. It means that, overall, everyone cares about all of the petitions ALMOST EQUALLY! LOL, I also spin that wheel, and when I get 4 or 5 meals, I dance around the room! I have long maintained that what someone does to a helpless animal, they will do to a weaker human if they think that they can get away with it. Those who abuse, no matter how many legs their victims have, should be punished to the fullest extent of the law." Rebecca E., Premium Member

"I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Premium Membership! Everything and anything I can do to help animals and contribute to justice in the world makes me very happy!" Jan L., Premium Member

Still have questions? Email us:

Nick Engelfried Writes About Animals, the Environment, and Conservation for the ForceChange network

Send this to friend

Skip to toolbar