Investigation of Toxoplasma gondii and association with early pregnancy and abortion rates in New Zealand farmed red deer (Cervus elaphus)

  • Kandarp Khodidas PatelEmail author
  • Elizabeth Burrows
  • Cord Heuer
  • Geoffrey William Asher
  • Peter Raymond Wilson
  • Laryssa Howe
Protozoology - Original Paper


This study tested for association between Toxoplasma gondii and pregnancy and abortion to investigate sub-optimal reproduction in farmed red deer (Cervus elaphus). Sera from a sub-sample (n = 2304) of pregnant and non-pregnant hinds in early gestation at first pregnancy scan (scan 1) and approximately at the end of second trimester at second pregnancy scan (scan 2) were tested for T. gondii antibodies using a validated ELISA. Foetuses and/or uteri from pregnant, non-pregnant, and aborting hinds at scan 1, scan 2, or weaning were tested for T. gondii DNA by nested PCR. At scan 1, 31.1% of 861 rising two-year-old (R2) and 28.3% of 357 mixed-aged (MA, ≥ 2 years) hinds were sero-positive. There was no association between scan 1 serology and non-pregnancy at animal (R2, p = 0.05 and MA, p = 0.43) or herd level (R2, p = 0.37). Toxoplasma gondii DNA was detected in 3/18 placenta and 4/18 foetal brains from aborting R2 hinds and 15/157 R2 and 3/21 MA uteri from non-pregnant hinds at scan 1. At scan 2, sero-prevalence was higher (odds ratio = 1.6, 95% CI = 1.04–2.48) in aborted (34.3% of 268) than in non-aborted (23.5% of 446) R2 hinds (p = 0.03) and 7.9% of abortions between scans were attributable to T. gondii exposure. Within-herd sero-prevalence at scan 2 was positively associated with daily abortion rate in R2 herds with aborted hinds (p < 0.001) but not in MA herds (p = 0.07). Toxoplasma gondii DNA was detected in 27/169 uteri, 2/20 cotyledons, and 1/5 foetal brains from aborted hinds at scan 2 and in uteri from 5/33 hinds not rearing a calf to weaning. Toxoplasma gondii RFLP genotyping of five loci revealed a unique type I/III genotype pattern, TgRDNZ1, in a foetal brain sample, not been previously reported in deer. These findings provide serological and molecular evidence that T. gondii infection is associated with abortion in red deer, possibly in all three trimesters.


Red deer Cervus elaphus Ultrasound scanning Pregnancy Abortion Toxoplasma gondii PCR 



daily abortion rate


deer slaughter premises


enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay


latex agglutination tests


mixed age (≥ 2 years old)


polymerase chain reaction


population attributable fraction


rising 2-year-old (15–24 months)


restriction fragment length polymorphism



This study was supported by the Deer Reproductive Efficiency Group based in Southland. It was funded by AgResearch, Agmardt, DEEResearch, MSD Animal Health, Southland Deer Farmers Association, Massey University and individual farmers, particularly Landcorp Farming Ltd. The in-kind contribution of all participating farmers is gratefully acknowledged, as is the assistance of a large number of veterinary practices and scanners for scanning and blood sample collection and DSP staff and veterinarians for tissue sample collection. We thank Dr. Fernanda Castillo-Alcala (School of Veterinary Science, Massey University, New Zealand) for her assistance in histology. We are also thankful to the technical team at the School of Veterinary Science and visiting veterinary science students for their assistance in laboratory work and the staff at the post-mortem facility to allow dissection of maternal and foetal tissues in the post-mortem premises.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Veterinary ScienceMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Animal and Veterinary SciencesThe University of AdelaideRoseworthyAustralia
  3. 3.EpiCentre, School of Veterinary ScienceMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  4. 4.AgResearch, Invermay Agricultural CentreMosgielNew Zealand

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