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Malaria parasites and related haemosporidians cause mortality in cranes: a study on the parasites diversity, prevalence and distribution in Beijing Zoo.

Jia, Ting; Huang, Xi; Valkiunas, Gediminas; Yang, Minghai; Zheng, Changming; Pu, Tianchun; Zhang, Yanyun; Dong, Lu; Suo, Xun; Zhang, Chenglin.
Malar J; 17(1): 234, 2018 Jun 18.
Artigo em Inglês | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-29914492


Malaria parasites and related haemosporidian parasites are widespread and may cause severe diseases in birds. These pathogens should be considered in projects aiming breeding of birds for purposes of sustained ex situ conservation. Cranes are the 'flagship species' for health assessment of wetland ecosystems, and the majority of species are endangered. Malaria parasites and other haemosporidians have been reported in cranes, but the host-parasite relationships remain insufficiently understood. Morbidity of cranes due to malaria has been reported in Beijing Zoo. This study report prevalence, diversity and distribution of malaria parasites and related haemosporidians in cranes in Beijing Zoo and suggest simple measures to protect vulnerable individuals.


In all, 123 cranes (62 adults and 61 juveniles) belonging to 10 species were examined using PCR-based testing and microscopic examination of blood samples collected in 2007-2014. All birds were maintained in open-air aviaries, except for 19 chicks that were raised in a greenhouse with the aim to protect them from bites of blood-sucking insects. Bayesian phylogenetic analysis was used to identify the closely related avian haemosporidian parasites.


Species of Plasmodium (5 lineages), Haemoproteus (1) and Leucocytozoon (2) were reported. Malaria parasites predominated (83% of all reported infections). The overall prevalence of haemosporidians in juveniles was approximately seven-fold higher than in adults, indicating high susceptibility of chicks and local transmission. Juvenile and adult birds hosted different lineages of Plasmodium, indicating that chicks got infection from non-parent birds. Plasmodium relictum (pSGS1) was the most prevalent malaria parasite. Mortality was not reported in adults, but 53% of infected chicks died, with reports of co-infection with Plasmodium and Leucocytozoon species. All chicks maintained in the greenhouse were non-infected and survived. Species of Leucocytozoon were undetectable by commonly used PCR protocol, but readily visible in blood films.


Crane chicks often die due to malaria and Leucocytozoon infections, which they likely gain from wild free-living birds in Beijing Zoo. Molecular diagnostics of crane Leucocytozoon parasites needs improvement. Because the reported infections are mainly chick diseases, the authors recommend maintaining of juvenile birds in vector-free facilities until the age of approximately 6 months before they are placed in open-air aviaries.
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