Borneo orangutans get COVID swabs

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Dozens of critically endangered orangutans in Malaysia have been tested for the coronavirus, with vets in protective suits undertaking the tricky task of giving the apes nasal swabs.

The antigen tests on 30 of the red-haired creatures in Sabah state on Borneo island were conducted last Tuesday, and all came back negative, wildlife officials said.

They were the first virus tests on orangutans in the Southeast Asian country, and were ordered after staff at a rehabilitation centre and wildlife park became infected.

“Testing for COVID-19 has been a vital tool in helping us get through this pandemic, and it is similarly important for this orangutan population,” said Sabah Wildlife Department Assistant Director Sen Nathan.

“The disease could prove vastly detrimental to their health and set back their rehabilitation.”

Vets will continue to closely monitor the apes and tests will be conducted regularly, officials said.

Animals have become infected with COVID-19 on occasion. At the weekend, a zoo in Atlanta announced that several of its gorillas had tested positive. Domestic cats, dogs and at least one ferret have also been infected.

Malaysia is fighting a serious COVID-19 outbreak driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, and has been recording thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths each day.

Sabah, on the northeastern tip of Borneo and home to vast tracts of jungle and a kaleidoscope of rare animals, has also faced a surge in cases.