Sunset Zoo animals get COVID-19 vaccines thanks to K-State Vet students

FILE - Mangalisa enjoys her time in a tree at Sunset Zoo.
FILE - Mangalisa enjoys her time in a tree at Sunset Zoo.(Sunset Zoo)
Published: Jun. 18, 2022 at 5:06 PM CDT
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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) - Animals at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan are starting to get up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines thanks to the help of K-State Veterinary students.

In the spring of 2022, Kansas State University says its zoo veterinarians and staff from the Sunset Zoo partnered to vaccinate many of the zoo’s animals against COVID-19.

Sara Gardhouse, assistant professor of exotic pet, wildlife and zoological medicine, said the COVID-19 vaccine for zoo animals is different than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for humans.

“The vaccine we are using is produced by Zoetis,” said Gardhouse, who is also a clinician in the Veterinary Health Center at K-State. “Zoetis has donated over 15,000 doses of this USDA authorized experimental vaccine to ensure protection of the animals in our zoos, conservation centers, academic centers and government organizations.”

Gardhouse also said that while the vaccine differs in some ways - it still has a lot of similarities to the human vaccine.

“The antigen, or virus, in the vaccine, is the same as in the human vaccines, but the adjuvant, or the ingredient used to promote a better immune response, is different,” Gardhouse said. “This allows the vaccine to be safe for use in animal species. The Zoetis vaccine requires an initial dose, followed by a booster in three weeks.”

K-State noted that all Sunset Zoo animals which require protection have received at least their first dose of the vaccine.

“We are in the process of administering all of their boosters now,” Gardhouse said. “The Sunset Zoo has focused on vaccinating animals known to be susceptible to the virus and in which species-positive cases have been reported. This includes a large number of the mammals and primates that the zoo has.”

The University said Sunset Zoo is home to more than 150 animals - including hyenas, cheetahs, flamingos and an array of primates.

Gardhouse indicated that there have been outbreaks in primates, mustelids - members of the weasel family like otters and ferrets - and many felidae - cats - species in other zoos and facilities.

“The administration of vaccines to zoo animals is slightly different than administration of vaccines to humans,” Gardhouse said. “For many of the animals at the Sunset Zoo, the keepers have worked hard to have them trained to receive injections.”

As of June 17, K-State said Sunset Zoo has not seen any side effects of the vaccine in the animals.

“We are all thrilled that our animals are going to be protected, just like the humans that work with them,” Gardhouse said.

“Sunset Zoo is grateful for the dedicated staff and leadership of the Veterinarian Health Center at Kansas State University that help give our animals excellent care, including these very important vaccines for the wellbeing of our animals,” said Scott Shoemaker, zoo director.

For more information about Sunset Zoo, click HERE.

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