The Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette, Indiana made the following announcement Tuesday:
It is with a very heavy heart that we announce that six of our nine African penguin residents have died after a devastating battle with what appears to be avian malaria. The remaining three penguins, Shazam, Sagely, and Donner, are in critical condition.
“Avian malaria is one of the most significant causes of mortality in penguins, with rates as high as 50-90 percent,” stated Zoo Director Neil Dale. “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.”
Avian malaria is a parasitic disease caused by the protozoan Plasmodium and transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitos. Affecting only birds, this form of malaria is not transmissible to humans or other zoo animals. It is also not transmissible from bird-to-bird. Penguins are considered particularly susceptible to the disease, and instances of the disease in captive populations often lead to high mortality.
On October 24, the African penguin, Flash, began exhibiting symptoms of illness, prompting a veterinary examination and a series of tests to determine the cause of illness. Despite exhaustive efforts to save him, Flash’s condition deteriorated rapidly and he was found deceased by animal care staff on the morning of October 28. Following this incident, a necropsy (animal autopsy) was performed, but returned with inconclusive results. However, on November 2, a blood test returned with a positive result for exposure to Plasmodium.
As soon as the disease was suspected within the colony, CPZ staff utilized a wide variety of resources, including consulting experts across the country regarding treatment.
“We know that the community will share in our grief during this heartbreaking time. The entire zoo staff has been emotionally invested in this penguin colony and has felt the loss of each bird deeply,” said Dale. We invite you to share your condolences and words of encouragement for our staff below.