Your Toronto Zoo is Administering Vaccines to COVID-19 Susceptible Animals

TORONTO, ON, Thursday, April 21, 2022: Have you ever wondered what it takes to give a tiger a vaccine? What about a red panda? A grizzly bear? Your Toronto Zoo is pleased to announce we have received our COVID-19 vaccines for animals, developed and donated by Zoetis, and have begun the process of vaccinating our COVID-19 susceptible animals. You may be wondering how we are able to get up close enough to administer the vaccines to these animals (especially those with large teeth and claws!). The answer: We give them the choice!

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How do the animals make this choice?

Voluntary positive reinforcement training is something the Wildlife Care staff have been working on with their animals for many years and has been an integral step in ensuring the vaccine rollout results in minimal stress and disruption to the animals’ routines. 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. 

A key component of these training sessions is that the animal always has the choice to participate in the training session or walk away and try again another time. This is not limited to just vaccines either! Many of the animals are happy to participate in regular X-rays, blood draws and hoof trimming, which allow the keepers and veterinary team to monitor their health regularly without causing the animals any undue stress. It requires constant patience and dedication, and it is a testament to the trust that is developed between the animals and their keepers as they work together each day.

Interested in learning more about how our Wildlife Care staff work on voluntary positive reinforcement training? Click the videos below for some examples:

Masai Giraffe Hoof Trimming

Polar Bear Blood Draw

African Lion Tail Presentation 

Western Lowland Gorilla Vaccine Training

COVID-19 vaccine for animals

Your Toronto Zoo has received 320 doses, with two doses required per animal given about two - three weeks apart. We have 120 animals that have received or will soon receive the vaccine, based on the COVID-19 sensitivity list that has been developed through on-going research and reports of positive cases in other zoos.

“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” says Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “We have an incredible team here at the Toronto Zoo and it’s been amazing to watch the care and commitment that goes into training many of these animals to participate in their own healthcare”.

Zoos in the United States began vaccinating their animals in 2021 and to date there have been no significant adverse effects reported. The health and safety of our animals is a priority and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure we protect their health. This includes giving them their regular vaccines from when they are first born, providing them with the highest level of medical care throughout their lives and administering the new vaccines to fight COVID-19 that has proved to be deadly in some animals in other zoos.

Zoetis shared its initial safety and serology data for its new vaccine in a scientific poster at the World One Health Congress in the Fall of 2020. To view the poster, click here. This is the only published study to date.

As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 103.3 experimental use permit, the USDA requests use and safety data be reported back to them. Furthermore, Zoetis’ agreement with each zoo/organization requires them to provide a monthly update on usage and safety observations. In addition, any significant adverse events must be reported immediately to Zoetis on a provided form so that they may report to both the USDA and the CCVB within three days. Zoetis has received no significant animal adverse event reports from zoo veterinarians following the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine for animals.

Media Contact Information:

Amy Naylor


Media Relations Coordinator

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