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Health evaluation of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) in southern Africa

Nola J. Parsons, Tertius A. Gous, Adam M. Schaefer, Ralph E.T. Vanstreels

Onderstepoort J Vet Res; Vol 83, No 1 (2016), 13 pages. doi: 10.4102/ojvr.v83i1.1147

Submitted: 31 December 2015
Published:  20 September 2016


The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is an endangered seabird that breeds along the coast of Namibia and South Africa, and disease surveillance was identified as a priority for its conservation. Aiming for the establishment of baseline data on the presence of potential pathogens in this species, a comprehensive health assessment (blood smear examination, haematology, biochemistry and serology) was conducted on samples obtained from 578 African penguins at 11 breeding colonies and a rehabilitation centre. There were 68 penguins that were seropositive for at least one of seven pathogens tested: avian encephalomyelitis virus, avian infectious bronchitis virus, avian reovirus, infectious bursal disease virus, Newcastle disease virus, Mycoplasma gallisepticum and Mycoplasma synoviae. All samples were seronegative for avian influenza virus subtypes H5 and H7 and infectious laryngotracheitis virus. The apparent prevalence of Babesia sp. and Borrelia sp. in blood smears was consistent with previous studies. Babesia-infected individuals had a regenerative response of the erythrocytic lineage, an active inflammatory response and hepatic function impairment. These findings indicate that African penguins may be exposed to conservation-significant pathogens in the wild and encourage further studies aiming for the direct detection and/or isolation of these microorganisms.

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Author affiliations

Nola J. Parsons, Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, Bloubergrant; Bayworld Centre for Research and Education, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Tertius A. Gous, Veterinary Pathologist, Helderberg, South Africa
Adam M. Schaefer, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Florida Atlantic University, United States
Ralph E.T. Vanstreels, Laboratory of Wildlife Comparative Pathology, University of São Paulo, Brazil


Spheniscidae; Serology; Infection; Pathogen; Disease


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ISSN: 0030-2465 (print) | ISSN: 2219-0635 (online)

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