Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Calgary Zoo seeks expert help after fungal infection kills third penguin this year

Calgary Zoo seeks expert help after fungal infection kills third penguin this year

A Gentoo penguin was euthanized Sunday after suffering from a severe fungal infection for nearly a month, the Calgary Zoo has confirmed.

Photograph by: Ted Rhodes , Calgary Herald

Calgary Zoo is calling on penguin experts worldwide for help with a respiratory disease that claimed another of its birds over the weekend.

Houdini, a 14-year-old male Gentoo penguin, was euthanized Sunday after he did not respond to intensive treatment for aspergillosis — a fungal infection that affects a bird's respiratory system.

He is the third penguin at the zoo to succumb to the disease this year.

Zoo head of veterinary services Sandie Black said Calgary was talking to zoos overseas about what they had done to combat aspergillosis, which is a common cause of death among captive penguins.

"We're asking other institutions what disinfectants are you using? What is your cleaning regimen? Is there any clue here to why we're seeing more [cases] in spite of all the steps we've taken over the last few months?"

Seven other penguins showing possible symptoms of aspergillosis had been isolated and will soon start another antifungal treatment program.

The birds were not responding to drug treatment as hoped, Black said, and may have a drug-resistant strain of the disease.

"[They] have continued to have the odd cough, which is what Houdini was showing us. They're still quarantined, on the same type of treatment that Houdini was receiving but none of them have shown the clinical signs that Houdini showed over the last ten days.

The zoo was asking institutions overseas about their experience with drug-resistance in treating aspergillosis, Black said, and was considering more potent antifungal drugs, used in human medicine, if necessary.

All the penguins at the zoo's indoor exhibit have been on preventive medication for aspergillosis since Oct. 11.

The June floods could also be behind the recent spike in symptoms, Black said.

"We've had huge amounts of silt deposited everywhere around the city, we've had many buildings affected by water. There is the possibility of increased spore levels . . . that may be affecting our penguins."

The zoo already had an above-standard cleaning regimen for the colony, Black said, but had increased it again. Air filters for the indoor exhibit were being replaced more frequently.

Air quality testing in March found no trace of aspergillus spores in the exhibits, Black said. The zoo was waiting on the results on a fresh round of tests. Houdini is the first indoor-only bird at the zoo to contract the disease.

Black held "moderate" concern for the other birds' health.

The zoo's Penguin Plunge exhibit opened in February 2012 and enjoyed a trouble-free first few months, but seven penguins had died since last December. The first aspergillosis casualty was Asa, a king penguin, who died in February. The other, Eduardo, a three-and-a-half year old male Humboldt, died at Thanksgiving weekend.

In December 2012 Fiona, a Gentoo, died following surgery after swallowing a foot-long stick. In August 2012 Humboldt penguins Guillermo and Juntos died within days of each other of suspected avian malaria.

Akemi, a three-year-old female Gentoo, died in October. Her cause death was confirmed as avian malaria.

Calgary Zoo has 51 penguins.


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