Amid reports that house pets have contracted COVID-19, The New York Times now reports that white-tailed deer in New York have also tested positive for the contagious Omicron variant.

According to a research article from open access preprint repository bioRxiv, “the results provide strong evidence of extensive SARS-CoV-2 infection of white-tailed deer.”

The study clarifies that various species of animals are at risk of contracting COVID-19, yet this marks the first instance in which it is documented in wildlife. Out of 131 deer that were sampled on Staten Island between Dec. 12, 2021, and Jan. 31, 2022, around 14% tested positive for antibodies of the virus, which implies previous exposure.

It is presumed that the deer are contracting COVID-19 from humans, then spreading it to additional deer nearby. While there is no proof that the deer are passing it on back to humans, experts fear that the long-term distribution of COVID will allow the virus more time and the possibility to mutate, thus giving birth to more variants. There is also no confirmation as to how humans were giving the virus to the deer, although experts have hypothesized that activities such as hand-feeding are potentially at fault

University of Guelph veterinarian Dr. Scott Weese calls the findings “disappointing but…not surprising.”