Toronto Zoo Animals Get Their COVID Vaccines

Toronto Zoo has been administering COVID-19 vaccines to susceptible animals, with the job made easier due to “voluntary positive reinforcement training” the animals have undergone, allowing them to better participate in their healthcare.

Toronto Zoo said that it has received 320 vaccine doses for 120 animals, with two doses required per animal given about two or three weeks apart.

The zoo said many of the animals “willingly present an area of the body (such as an arm or tail) as part of their regular training exercises with their trusted keepers, with desirable treats often used as a reward for their participation.”

The animals’ training allows the keepers and veterinary team “to monitor their health regularly without causing the animals any undue stress,” the zoo said.

“We are happy to report we have had no positive cases in any of our animals throughout this pandemic and being able to add this extra layer of protection allows us to continue doing everything we can to provide them with the highest level of protection and medical care” said Dolf DeJong, CEO of Toronto Zoo. Credit: Toronto Zoo via Storyful

Video transcript

- Hello, my name is Hannah. And I'm one of the wildlife health technicians at your Toronto Zoo. We have received our COVID-19 vaccines for animals, developed and donated by Zoetis. We have started vaccinating some of our most susceptible animals.

The vaccine is given in two doses, about two to three weeks apart. I think one of the main questions you might be curious about is how do we vaccinate some of these animals we might not get close to, like lions and tigers. The thing to keep in mind is that our animals are trained to participate voluntarily in their own health care.

The COVID-19 vaccine for animals may be new, but receiving vaccinations from our vet tech team is a process many of our animals are already familiar and comfortable with. The Wildlife Care team devotes a lot of time and care to training the animals to voluntarily present an area of the body, such as an arm, a tail, or a hip.

For a pretend poke and as a reward, they receive their favorite treat. One of the most important aspects in this process is that the animal can walk away at any time. It is completely up to them, whether they want to participate or not. Some days are more successful than other days. And that's OK.

By giving the animals the option to participate in their own health care, it allows us to monitor their health more closely and efficiently without causing any undue stress or disruption to their regular routine. It's not specific to vaccines, either. Some animals may require additional health care maintenance, like hoof trimming.

Others may be aging, for example, and require routine x-rays to monitor a condition. It takes a lot of time and dedication. But putting the effort and care into establishing trust with the animals the keepers work with every day, goes such a long way to helping us help them stay nice and healthy.

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Administering the vaccine is a lengthy process, since we have about 120 animals to vaccinate . As mentioned, animals that have been trained for injections, have the choice not to participate, which means we try again another day. Once they have received the vaccine, our Wildlife Care staff will monitor them closely.

We can confirm that since 2021, when zoos in the US began vaccinating their animals, there have been no significant adverse effects reported. As for determining which animals are receiving the vaccine, we made these decisions based on the COVID-19 sensitivity list that has been developed through ongoing research and reports of positive cases in other zoos. We are happy to report that we have had no cases here at the Toronto Zoo throughout the pandemic. Thanks for watching.

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