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Cryptosporidium and Giardia in feral water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) in the South East Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area, Australia


Global investigations have implicated water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) as a potential source of zoonotic Cryptosporidium and Giardia parasites which may pose a threat to human health. In Australia, buffalo are a feral pest that have colonised the floodplains, wetlands and woodlands of Indigenous owned and managed Arnhem Land, in tropical monsoonal Northern Australia. Indigenous people from the remote community Ngukurr have raised concerns about the potential threat to their health from shared use of surface waters inhabited by buffalo, in the South East Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area (SEAL IPA), Northern Australia. Surface waters are valued by local Indigenous people for spiritual and customary reasons, bush foods, medicines and drinking water. Here, we used molecular methods to characterise Cryptosporidium spp. and Giardia duodenalis assemblages from feral water buffalo living in the SEAL IPA to determine potential zoonotic risks to health of Indigenous people through co-use of surface water billabongs. Buffalo faecal DNA was screened for Cryptosporidium and Giardia using the 18S rRNA gene. Giardia were also screened using Glutamate hydrogenase (gdh) and βeta-giardin (β-giardin) genes. DNA sequencing identified C. ryanae in 9.9% (31/313) and G. duodenalis assemblage E 1.9% (6/313) in buffalo. Cryptosporidium ryanae is not considered zoonotic and G. duodenalis assemblage E is a livestock assemblage that has been reported in humans. Carriage of G. duodenalis assemblage E in buffalo may present a disease risk for Indigenous people utilising billabongs, according to customary practice.

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  1. In Aboriginal English, “‘Country’ refers to more than just a geographical area: it is shorthand for all of the values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations associated with that geographical area” (Smyth 1994).

  2. A billabong is an Australian term for an oxbow lake and a commonly used term by Indigenous people in Ngukurr.


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We would like to thank the Traditional Owners of the SEAL IPA for supporting our research on their Country. Thanks also goes to the Macquarie University Department of Biological Sciences for the use of the laboratory facilities.


Funding for this research was received from Macquarie University’s Department of Environmental Science (Higher Degree Research grant) and The Nature Conservancy who supported the engagement of the Ngukurr Yangbala Rangers.

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Correspondence to Shaina Russell.

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Russell, S., Power, M. & Ens, E. Cryptosporidium and Giardia in feral water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) in the South East Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area, Australia. Parasitol Res 119, 2149–2157 (2020).

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  • Giardia duodenalis assemblage E
  • Cryptosporidium ryanae
  • Feral water buffalo
  • Wetland
  • Northern Australia
  • Indigenous land