John Ball Zoo closely watching animals during COVID-19 closure

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The staff at John Ball Zoo are taking extra precautions after a tiger at another zoo tested positive for COVID-19.

The Bronx Zoo in New York announced Sunday that a 4-year-old tiger tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus. It’s the first known animal case of COVID-19 in the U.S.

The World Health Organization previously stated there is no evidence of the disease in animals.

John Ball Zoo says the positive test has raised yet another concern for them during this pandemic.

“This is absolutely an unprecedented time for all of us at the zoo, for our entire community, for our entire world. Our generation has certainly never seen anything quite like this,” said Mike Lomonaco with the zoo.

Lomonaco says John Ball Zoo made several changes over the last few weeks, including shutting down certain areas of the park to the public and only allowing essential staff on the zoo’s campus. He says they’ve also started staggering hours so staff can social distance.

The Grand Rapids zoo was set to open on April 3 until Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued executive orders aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. Now John Ball Zoo is closed until further notice.

“Not being able to open the zoo as we were scheduled to this past Friday was a difficult day. It was an emotional day for our staff, for many in the community that reached out to us,” said Lomonaco.

He says the zoo stands to lose upwards of $1 million for every month it’s forced to stay closed.

“The critical care that our animals need will no doubt be provided one way or the other, but the stress this puts on the zoo and the rest of the organization certainly impacts our operations,” he added.

Lomonaco says the Bronx Zoo’s announcement about the sickened tiger certainly heightens awareness at John Ball Zoo.

He says workers were already closely watching the zoo’s primates because they believed they could be more susceptible to contracting the disease. He says John Ball Zoo is now awaiting further guidance from its community partners before making any more changes to protect its animals.

Zoo staff say they’re counting down the moments until things are safe again.

“We cannot wait to welcome the community back to the zoo. Again, this is a tough time for us, certainly for the employees. We were really eager and anticipating a great season this year,” said Lomonaco.

The zoo says the best way to help them during this time is by renewing zoo memberships or making a donation on John Ball Zoo’s website,