Six penguins from Lafayette's Columbian Park Zoo die of avian malaria

·3 min read

LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Columbian Park Zoo recently announced that six of their nine African penguins have died after battling avian malaria.

Seven penguins walk into their exhibit for the first time at the Columbian Park Zoo, Thursday, July 29, 2021 in Lafayette. The seven penguins arrived Wednesday evening and are now on display in the zoo.
Seven penguins walk into their exhibit for the first time at the Columbian Park Zoo, Thursday, July 29, 2021 in Lafayette. The seven penguins arrived Wednesday evening and are now on display in the zoo.

"Avian malaria is one of the most significant causes of mortality in penguins, with rates as high as 50-90 percent,” Neil Dale, zoo director said in a release. “Despite the best efforts of our veterinarian and staff, who provided around the clock care administering anti-malarial medications and other intensive care measures, we were unable to stop the progression of the infections.”

According to the release, this parasitic disease is caused by "plasmodium" and is transmitted through bites of infected mosquitos. This disease only affects birds and is not transmissible to humans or other zoo animals, according to the release.

Beginning on Oct. 24, the African penguin named Flash began exhibiting symptoms of illness which prompted veterinary tests and examinations. Despite the vet team's extensive efforts, Flash's condition rapidly deteriorated and was found deceased by animal care staff four days later, on the morning Oct. 28.

Following the necropsy – animal autopsy – of Flash , a blood test returned with a positive result for plasmodium.

Seven penguins walk into their exhibit for the first time at the Columbian Park Zoo, Thursday, July 29, 2021 in Lafayette. The seven penguins arrived Wednesday evening and are now on display in the zoo.
Seven penguins walk into their exhibit for the first time at the Columbian Park Zoo, Thursday, July 29, 2021 in Lafayette. The seven penguins arrived Wednesday evening and are now on display in the zoo.

“We’ve been consulting with veterinary experts from some of the leading zoos in the country to ensure that we are doing everything possible to best treat our birds,” Caitlin Laffery, assistant zoo director, said. “We are very fortunate to work in a profession where knowledge and expertise is shared so freely and to have resources like Purdue’s Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory right in our backyard.”

Following Flash's death, the remaining eight penguins began showing symptoms of illness. Five additional penguins have died since Flash, those being Raspberry, Zing, Chartreuse, Fozzie and Zip. The most recent death, Zip, was found dead by Columbian Park Zoo animal care staff on Nov. 28.

According to the release, avian malaria symptoms include weakness, lethargy and loss of appetite. Treatments for the disease includes anti-malarial medications, fluid and nutritional support and prophylactic treatment.

The remaining three penguins, Shazam, Sagely, and Donner, are currently in critical condition.

Raspberry and Zip explore the penguin enclosure as Ziggy swims below at the Columbian Park Zoo, Thursday, July 29, 2021 in Lafayette. The seven penguins arrived Wednesday evening and are now on display in the zoo.
Raspberry and Zip explore the penguin enclosure as Ziggy swims below at the Columbian Park Zoo, Thursday, July 29, 2021 in Lafayette. The seven penguins arrived Wednesday evening and are now on display in the zoo.

“We’ve been working around the clock to save as many birds as possible,” Heather Woody, head zookeeper, said. “Our animal care team is absolutely heartbroken that something like this happened after all the months of hard work and preparation, but our focus now has to be on doing everything we can to help our penguins.”

The Penguin Cove exhibit opened at Columbian Park on July 30 after being pushed back several times due to the COIVD-19 pandemic. According to the release, Dale stated that Columbian Park Zoo is working with the Penguin Cove exhibit's original design team to further incorporate preventative measures for the exhibit.

Zoo staff is continuing to consult experts for other preventative measures to be taken to ward off exposures.

“We know that the community will share in our grief during this incredibly sad time. The entire zoo staff has been emotionally invested in this penguin colony and has felt the loss of each bird deeply,” Dale said.

Cards of support for the zoo staff can be directed to the Zoo’s mailing address at 1915 Scott St, Lafayette, IN 47904.

Margaret Christopherson is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email her at mtroup@jconline.com and follow her on Twitter @MargaretJC2

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Columbian Park Zoo penguins die of avian malaria in Lafayette

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