ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Zoo tigers assist in virus studies

This editorial was originally published July 3 in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

Two city residents are helping scientists learn more about COVID-19.

The residents aren’t people, though, and they live at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

Sumatran tigers Bugara and Indah were diagnosed with the disease in February; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was interested.

Each of the big cats had been trained before their diagnosis to donate blood — a process that involves coaxing them into a chute, then convincing them to lie down and slide their tails through a hole in the door. Veterinarian Kami Fox used a syringe to secure the blood while zookeeper Kristin Sliger provided the tigers “an endless supply of meatballs” and goat’s milk on the other end of the enclosure.

“It requires a lot of time, consistency, trust and patience,” zoo spokeswoman Bonnie Kemp said in an email. “Even the CDC was impressed.”

The CDC requested samples of the blood, and it’s being used to study antibodies to learn how a tiger’s immune system responds to the virus.

The story is highlighted in “Zoo to You,” a magazine published by the zoo for its members.

“Bugara and Indah are now COVID-free, but their blood samples are being used to learn more about this disease in animals,” the article says.