Health screening for a translocation of captive-reared tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) to an island refuge

Health screening for a translocation of captive-reared tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) to an island refuge
Peer reviewed


AIMS: To screen tuatara undergoing translocation from a captive crèche to an island refuge for evidence of health and known diseases, and apply basic epidemiological techniques to assess the significance of disease test results.
METHODS: Tuatara (n=353) were physically examined and samples were taken from a random selection (n=30) for estimated white cell counts, screening for haemoparasites, and culture for Salmonella, Yersinia, Aeromonas and Campylobacter spp. Direct faecal smears were carried out on-site, and faecal floats were later performed to assess levels of endoparasitism with helminths and protozoa (n=69). Modified Ziehl-Neelsen staining was used to screen faecal smears, and positive specimens were further screened using an immunofluorescence antibody (IFA) test for Cryptosporidium oocysts.
RESULTS: There was no evidence of external parasites on any of the animals examined and only one animal had a gross abnormality. All estimated white cell counts were in the range 2.8– 17.5x109/L. No haemoparasites were observed. There were no enteric pathogens cultured, indicating the intestinal carriage of these bacteria in the tuatara was <9.4%. Of the 69 individual faecal samples examined, 12 (17%) had unidentified coccidial oocysts, 21 (30%) had nematode ova of various kinds, and 12 (17%) had intestinal carriage of motile protozoa consistent with Trichomonas spp and another unidentified organism. Nineteen (28%) tuatara had acid-fast oocysts present; however, IFA staining failed to detect any Cryptosporidium oocysts.
CONCLUSIONS: Our understanding of the diversity of gastrointestinal endoparasites affecting tuatara is inadequate as many of the parasite ova seen could not be identified. This is the first record of tuatara as a host for Trichomonas spp of protozoa in the gastrointestinal tract.
KEY WORDS: Salmonella, endoparasites, wildlife, translocation, disease prevalence, tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus, enteric protozoa

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