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Title: Do free-ranging Common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) play a role in the transmission of Toxoplasma gondii within a zoo environment?

item Dubey, Jitender

Submitted to: Veterinary Parasitology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/20/2008
Publication Date: 3/1/2008
Citation: Hill, N.J., Dubey, J.P., Vogelnest, L., Power, M.L., Deane, E.M. 2008. Do free-ranging Common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) play a role in the transmission of Toxoplasma gondii within a zoo environment? Veterinary Parasitology. 152:202-209.

Interpretive Summary: Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled parasite of all warm-blooded hosts worldwide. It causes mental retardation and loss of vision in children, and abortion in livestock. Cats are the main reservoir of T. gondii because they are the only hosts that can excrete the resistant stage (oocyst) of the parasite in the feces. Humans become infected by eating undercooked meat from infected animals and food and water contaminated with oocysts. Scientists at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and an university in Australia report on epidemiology of T. gondii infection in possums. The results will be of interest to biologists, parasitologists, and veterinarians.

Technical Abstract: To investigate the possible role of Common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) in the transmission of Toxoplasma gondii within a zoo environment, a serological survey of a free-ranging population resident within Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia was undertaken using the modified agglutination test (MAT). For comparison, the seroprevalence of T. gondii antibodies was also assessed in a possum population inhabiting a felid-free, non-urban woodland habitat. Six of 126 possums (4.8%) from the zoo population had antibodies to T. gondii with a MAT titre of 1:25 or higher while in contrast, all of the 17 possums from the woodland area were seronegative. These observations suggest that possums were at a higher risk of exposure to the parasite as a consequence of co-existing with domestic, stray and captive felids associated with urbanisation. Screening of captive felids at the zoo indicated 16 of 23 individuals (67%) and all 6 species were seropositive for T. gondii, implicating them as a possible source of the parasite within the zoo setting. In addition captive, non-felid carnivores including the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), dingo (Canis lupis) and leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) were tested for the presence of T. gondii antibodies as these species predate and are a leading cause of death amongst zoo possums. In total, 5 of 23 individuals (22%) were seropositive, representing two of the four carnivorous species; the dingo and chimpanzee. We concluded that carnivory was not a highly efficient pathway for the transmission of T. gondii and the free-ranging possum population posed minimal threat to the health of zoo animals.