First Report of a Novel Hepatozoon sp. in Giant Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
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The first report of giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) infected with a novel Hepatozoon species is presented. An intraleukocytic parasite was detected via routine blood smear from a zoo-housed giant panda at the National Zoological Park. Ribosomal DNA sequences indicated a previously undescribed Hepatozoon species. Phylogenetic and distance analyses of the sequences placed it within its own branch, clustered with Old World species with carnivore (primarily ursid and mustelid) hosts. Retrospective and opportunistic testing of other individuals produced additional positive detections (17/23, 73.9%), demonstrating 100% prevalence (14/14) across five institutions. All animals were asymptomatic at time of sampling, and health implications for giant pandas remain unknown.
KeywordsHepatozoon Ailuropoda melanoleuca Giant panda Apicomplexa Hemoparasite Conservation management Polymerase chain reaction
The authors would like to thank our global partner zoological institutions—Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, the Memphis Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, the Zoological Society of London Zoo, and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding—for the collection of biological material and providing access to their samples. A multitude of staff and interns—including Lauren Helgen, Gracia Syed, Melanie O’Day, Kristin Stewardson, Tabitha Viner, and Beya Hull—also provided valuable assistance with this project, for which the authors are very grateful. This project was made possible with support from David M. Rubenstein and family, Judy and John W. McCarter, Jr., and the Smithsonian Institution. Generous support was also provided by the Morris Animal Foundation and Dennis and Connie Keller through our training partnership.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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