Novel vagrant records and occurrence of vector-borne pathogens in King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) in South Africa


The King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is a pelagic seabird that breeds on Subantarctic islands and is considered a rare vagrant in South Africa. From 2001 to 2017, six King Penguins were rescued along the South African coast and admitted into rehabilitation centers. These and previous records of King Penguins were obtained near the country’s major ports, which suggests that some of these birds may have been ship-assisted. One of the King Penguins evaluated in this study died shortly after being admitted to the rehabilitation center due to extensive hemorrhage caused by a long-line fishing hook, and another had a beak wound consistent with fishing hook injury. Three King Penguins were infected with the tick-borne protozoan Babesia peircei and two died as a result of babesiosis. One King Penguin was diagnosed with an infection by Rickettsia-like organisms. Pox-like lesions, presumably mosquito-borne, developed on the eyelid skin of one penguin. Additionally, one of two King Penguins permanently captive in Cape Town during the same period also presented a lethal case of spirochetosis, which was possibly tick-borne. These novel records of vector-borne pathogens in King Penguins highlight the risk of seabird rehabilitation centers to serve as potential sources of pathogens to vagrant species, while also illustrating the opportunities that these centers provide for pathogen research and surveillance.

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We would like to thank the staff and volunteers of SANCCOB. SANCCOB is supported by a wide range of donors, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust and the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF). We are grateful to Juanita Raath, Claudio Arroyo, Luciano Bugalho, Sândara Sguario, Trudy Malan, Hayley McLellan, Jennifer Olbers, David Cooper, Fiona McKay, Ian Espie and Tracy Shaw (National Zoological Gardens of South Africa), Julie Napier (Henry Doorly Zoo), Liezl Pretorius and Klemens Pütz. This research is supported by the Sea Research Foundation (Mystic Aquarium), the Georgia Aquarium and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES). King Penguin distribution data was obtained through the IUCN Red List website.

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Correspondence to Nola J. Parsons.

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Parsons, N.J., Gous, T.A., Cranfield, M.R. et al. Novel vagrant records and occurrence of vector-borne pathogens in King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) in South Africa. Polar Biol 41, 79–86 (2018).

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  • Blood parasite
  • Ectoparasite
  • Fisheries by-catch
  • Geographic distribution
  • Southern Ocean
  • Spheniscidae