AIM: To describe a temporal cluster of avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) at an Operation Nest Egg™ (ONE) site in Rotorua which caused mortality in a juvenile kiwi and had high population prevalence in brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli).
METHODS: A 70-day-old wild-born captive brown kiwi was submitted for post-mortem examination to Massey University Wildlife Health Centre. Post-mortem examination and histopathology were used to determine the cause of death. Plasmodium specific PCR analysis was subsequently conducted on tissue samples and 108 individual blood samples from living kiwi from five ONE breeding sites and two rowi kiwi crèches. Positive PCR products were sequenced to identify the Plasmodium spp. isolated. Where possible, blood smear microscopic examination was used to determine the level of parasitaemia in the infected kiwi.
RESULTS: Plasmodium spp. was detected in the kiwi which died and it showed histopathological evidence of disseminated protozoal infection. A high prevalence of Plasmodium was found in blood samples from kiwi concurrently residing at ONE Rotorua by blood smear microscopy (22/32, 68%) and PCR (25/32, 78%). All kiwi with positive blood smears had only a low level of peripheral parasitaemia at the time of sampling. However, 0/17 additional kiwi sampled at Rotorua 3 weeks after the juvenile's death, 0/23 Rotorua juveniles sampled 1 year later and 0/59 kiwi from the five other locations were positive for Plasmodium by these methods. Sequencing analysis revealed a cosmopolitan Plasmodium (Huffia) elongatum lineage in all positive birds.
CONCLUSIONS: This is the first description of an avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) infection associated with mortality and a high population prevalence in brown kiwi at a ONE site in the 20 years of the programme. The study suggests that this level of infection in a population of kiwi was unusual and provides evidence in support of continued vigilance of disease risks associated with this and other conservation management programmes involving wildlife translocation.
KEY WORDS: Brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli), mortality, Plasmodium, prevalence
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