On. Nov. 15, caretakers at the Safari West Wildlife Preserve and African Tent Camp noticed that Gijima, an 8-year-old cheetah, was lethargic, uninterested in food and was coughing, preserve spokeswoman Aphrodite Caserta said.
The cheetah was taken in for inspection and was thought to have a respiratory infection. However, the director of the preserve, Nancy Anne Lang, had seen a news report of a house cat contracting the H1N1 virus, and asked to have Gijima tested because she displayed similar symptoms.
A couple of days later, the test came back positive for H1N1 virus, Caserta said. Gijima has since recovered fully from the illness and is back in her enclosure with her sister, Thula, Caserta said.
She said officials at Safari West do not know how Gijima was infected with the virus, and that the preserve is continuing its regular hygienic practices, including frequent hand washing, sterilization of food bowls and tools, and the use of foot baths at the entrances to animal enclosures.
"We didn't feel like she had any harm" from the virus, Caserta said. "It was just kind of a fascinating thing for us to understand."
Steve Feldman, spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said he believes Gijima's illness is the first of its kind for an animal in a zoological setting.
Feldman said the illness is "just really an issue of animal health, and doesn't present any issues for public health."
The AZA is a wildlife conservation organization that also accredits zoos and aquariums nationwide.
AZA-accredited places in the Bay Area include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the San Francisco Zoo, the Oakland Zoo, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco, and the Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo.