Six penguins at Indiana zoo die of avian malaria
Columbian Park Zoo is devastated as they put their best efforts to care for their remaining 3 penguins in critical condition.
The Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette, Indiana, has announced the tragic deaths of 6 of their 9 African penguins after contracting avian malaria.
Caused by "plasmodium," the parasitic disease is transmitted by infected mosquito bites. It only impacts birds and is not transmissible to humans or other zoo animals. According to an organizational release, avian malaria symptoms consist of weakness, lethargy and loss of appetite, and treatments include anti-malarial medications, fluid and nutritional support, and prophylactic treatment.
"Avian malaria is one of the most significant causes of mortality in penguins, with rates as high as 50-90 percent,” said Neil Dale, zoo director, in the release. “Despite the best efforts of our veterinarian and staff, who provided around the clock care administering anti-malarial medications and other intensive care measures, we were unable to stop the progression of the infections.”
The African penguin named Flash started presenting symptoms of an ailment on October 24, 2021, which prompted veterinary tests and examinations. Though the veterinary team worked tirelessly and gave their best efforts to save Flash, his disease continued to rapidly progress and in the morning of October 28, 2021, he was found dead by animal care staff. After Flash’s necropsy, blood test results displayed he was positive for plasmodium.
“We’ve been consulting with veterinary experts from some of the leading zoos in the country to ensure that we are doing everything possible to best treat our birds,” said Caitlin Laffery, assistant zoo director.
“We are very fortunate to work in a profession where knowledge and expertise is shared so freely and to have resources like Purdue’s Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory right in our backyard,” she added.
The 8 other penguins in the zoo started demonstrating symptoms of illness following Flash's death, and 5 more penguins have been found deceased since then including Raspberry, Zing, Chartreuse, Fozzie, and Zip. Zip’s death was the most recent—November 28, 2021. The remaining 3 penguins, Shazam, Sagely, and Donner, are currently in critical condition.
“We’ve been working around the clock to save as many birds as possible,” remarked Heather Woody, head zookeeper. “Our animal care team is absolutely heartbroken that something like this happened after all the months of hard work and preparation, but our focus now has to be on doing everything we can to help our penguins.”
The Penguin Cove exhibit debuted at Columbian Park on July 30, 2021, after being postponed on various occasions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the release, the zoo is collaborating with Penguin Cove’s original design team to further integrate measures that prevent disease within the exhibit, and zoo staff continues to reference experts for other methods to avoid exposures.
“We know that the community will share in our grief during this incredibly sad time. The entire zoo staff has been emotionally invested in this penguin colony and has felt the loss of each bird deeply,” Dale said.
Show your support for the zoo staff by sending a card to the zoo’s mailing address: 1915 Scott St, Lafayette, IN 47904.
Suspected avian malaria disease hits penguin colony at Columbian Park Zoo. News release. Columbian Park Zoo. November 30, 2021. Accessed December 2, 2021. https://www.lafayette.in.gov/DocumentCenter/View/13659/PRESS-RELEASE-Suspected-avian-malaria-disease-hits-penguin-colony-at-Columbian-Park-Zoo?fbclid=IwAR3TAQ6LDPhizHhdXqxni4UdBAayztubNJdkR4XeRHZC1qe-1_jEMd_HTCU