Published On: Wed, Oct 10th, 2012

Avian malaria the cause of death of six penguins at the London Zoo

Six Humboldt penguins died this August at the London Zoo after contracting a strain of avian malaria, according to a BBC News report Wednesday.

Public domain photo/Flakes via Wikimedia Commons

In an attempt to prevent the mosquito-borne disease, the Zoo reportedly increased the antimalarial medication for the birds fearing an increase in the mosquito population this summer from the wet weather, one of the wettest in decades.  In addition, lavender oil was sprayed around the bird’s nest boxes as a mosqiuito deterrent.

A London Zoo spokesperson said  avian malaria is “endemic” in the UK’s wild bird population.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, the parasite that causes avian malaria, several species of Plasmodium,  are not host-specific and infect a wide variety of domestic and wild birds in most areas of the world. Penguins, falcons, canaries, owls, domestic poultry, ducks, and pigeons are most often affected.

The parasite is particularly lethal to species which have not evolved resistance to the disease (e.g. penguins). Plasmodium relictum is the species  that most often causes disease in raptors and penguins.

Dr Stephen Larcombe, an avian malaria expert at Oxford University’s Edward Grey Institute told the BBC, “Generally where they live is cold and windy so they don’t get infected very often in their native conditions.

“In zoos it is quite likely that mosquitoes will be around, especially when, like this year, conditions are wet and there’s lots of things for them to bite.

“Because penguins will have almost no resistance, when one bird does become infected it will probably have a lot of parasites in its blood which makes it far more likely for other penguins to become infected.”

Speaking of the remaining penguins, the spokesperson said: “All the penguins appear healthy and well. Obviously our keepers are keeping a close eye on them, working with the vets, and just making sure we watch them carefully.”

London Zoo has three different species of penguin and it was six Humboldt penguins which died, although the spokesperson said no particular species is more at risk than another, according to a report in The Independent.

Avian malaria was recently in the news because of a study that showed the parasite is advancing northward and infecting birds in Alaska.




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- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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