Avian Malaria detected in Galapagos Penguins | July 4th, 2008

Scientists from the Galapagos National Park’s Fabricio Valverde Laboratory, the Charles Darwin Foundation, the University of Missouri, and led by Dr. Patricia Parker of the St. Louis Zoo, detected the presence of Plasmodium in several Galapagos penguins while researching illnesses affecting avian species in the Galapagos Islands

Plasmodium – a blood-borne parasitic protozoa that can cause avian malaria – affects birds, mammals and reptiles. There are over 200 species of Plasmodium, at least 10 species affect humans, others affect other animals including birds, reptiles and rodents.

It is not known which type of Plasmodium is present in the penguins tested because it is necessary to do a larger sampling. For this reason a follow-up research expedition is planned to test a greater number of individuals and to identify the parasite, to determine the mosquito responsible for its transmission, and check for its presence in other bird species.

Plasmodium that affects birds is not contagious to humans and therefore cannot be transmitted to humans.

All the samples that will be collected on the monitoring trip will be analyzed in the Fabricio Valverde Laboratory of the Galapagos National Park, which has the necessary specialized equipment and infrastructure for the research effort.

Each year the Galapagos National Park, with assistance from the Charles Darwin Foundation, does a census of penguins in the archipelago; the results of the last few years have indicated stable populations of the species.

The Galapagos Penguin Sphensicus mendiculus is one of the smallest penguins in the world and the only one found north of the equator. Its current population is estimated to be less than 2000 individuals and it is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red Book of endangered species.