Exposure of Threatened Accipitridae to Mycobacterium bovis Calls for Active Surveillance
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- Cunha, M.V., Azorín, B., Peñuela, R.G. et al. EcoHealth (2017) 14: 310. doi:10.1007/s10393-017-1226-0
Anthropogenic activities have cumulatively led to the dramatic decline of world populations of vultures that currently face serious survival challenges in several regions of the world. In Portugal, the three resident species qualify as endangered and are under conservation efforts, mainly in the central east and south-east regions, where habitat protection and artificial feeding stations were implemented. Concurrently, the areas under protection are highly affected by tuberculosis (TB) in cattle and wild ungulates, whose potentially infected carcasses may naturally or artificially be used as feed by local vultures. In this work, we opportunistically surveyed populations of Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus) and Eurasian black vulture (Aegypius monachus) for the presence of Mycobacterium bovis. Nine pathogenic mycobacteria, including one M. bovis isolate, were cultured from the oropharynx of nine of the surveyed vultures (n = 55), sampled in recovery centres or in artificial feeding stations. Genotyping of the M. bovis strain indicated spoligotype SB0121, the most frequent type in Portugal, and a unique MIRU–VNTR profile that differed in two loci from the profiles of SB0121 bovine and deer strains from the same geographical area. The M. bovis-positive griffon exhibited poor clinical condition when admitted to the recovery centre; however, clinical evidence of TB was not present. Although the significance of M. bovis isolation in this vulture specimen could not be ascertained and despite the accepted notion that vultures are naturally resistant to microbial pathogens, the sanitary follow-up of Accipitridae vulture populations in TB-hotspot areas is essential to safeguard ongoing conservation efforts and also to evaluate the suitability of standing legislation on deliberate supplementary feeding schemes for menaced birds of prey.