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Vet Parasitol. 2010 Oct 11;173(1-2):123-7. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2010.06.026. Epub 2010 Jun 25.

Identification of Plasmodium relictum causing mortality in penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) from São Paulo Zoo, Brazil.

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Fundação Parque Zoológico de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.


This study reports avian malaria caused by Plasmodium relictum in Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) from São Paulo Zoo. The disease was highly infective among the birds and was clinically characterized by its acute course and high mortality. The penguins of São Paulo Zoo were housed for at least 2 years without malaria; however, they had always been maintained in an enclosure protected from mosquito exposure during the night period. When they presented pododermatitis, they were freed at night for a short period. São Paulo Zoo is located in one of the last forest remnants of the city, an area of original Atlantic forest. In the winter, the space destined for Zoo birds is shared with migratory species. Hence the possibility exists that the disease was transmitted to the penguins by mosquitoes that had previously bitten infected wild birds. Avian malaria parasites are transmitted mainly by mosquitoes of the genera Aedes and Culex, common vectors in the Atlantic forest. In this study, one Culex (Cux.) sp. was found, infected with P. relictum. There are diverse problems in housing distinct species of animals in captivity, principally when occupying the same enclosure, since it facilitates the transmission of diseases with indirect cycles, as is the case of Plasmodium spp., because certain species that cause discrete infections in some bird species can become a serious danger for others, especially penguins, which do not possess natural resistance. Thus, serious implications exist for periodically testing and administrating malaria therapy in captive penguins potentially exposed to mosquitoes during the night period, as well as other captive birds from São Paulo Zoo.

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