November 26, 2007

Tadpole Slayer: Mystery Epidemic Imperils Frogs
Science News Online -
24 Nov 2007
J Raloff
Area: United States

From Alaska to Florida, a novel and yet-unnamed protozoan is knocking off tadpoles. Species vulnerable to "the beast" belong to the genus Rana, which includes leopard frogs, green frogs, and bullfrogs, says ecologist John C. Maerz. His team at the University of Georgia in Athens stumbled across mass die-offs of southern leopard frog tadpoles in nearby ponds last year. Dissection showed the animals' innards peppered with spherical, one-celled parasites. Genetic testing confirmed these are loosely related to Perkinsus, a disease-causing organism that affects marine shellfish.

Maerz' group now offers the first published photos of the pathogen and descriptions of its effects in the September EcoHealth. Infected tadpoles become lethargic and developmentally stunted, the Georgia scientists report. Although the mystery parasite infects all organs, it clusters in the liver, sometimes tripling that organ's size and giving the false impression that an animal is fat and robust. So many protozoa swamped and killed tissue in the liver of one sick tadpole, Maerz recalls, that throughout most of the organ "we could find no identifiable liver cells."

Type E Botulism Outbreak Kills Birds
Petoskey News-Review -
23 Nov 2007
L Nelle
Area: Michigan United States

In early November, Gary Rentrop took a stroll along the Lake Michigan shoreline near his cottage in Cross Village and saw a saddening sight. Lining a one-mile stretch of beach were dozens of dead birds, some half buried in the sand and others washing up onto the shore. “It's pretty devastating. I've never seen anything like this before,” Rentrop said.

“The first thing I thought was there is something really wrong with the ecology of the lake. It caused me to make some inquiries of what was going on.” After contacting environmental groups and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Rentrop learned that the die-off was the result of a Type E Botulism outbreak which killed nearly 3,000 birds at Sleeping Bear Dunes in 2006. Rentrop reported his find to the DNR which came to 82 birds including: 27 red-necked grebes, nine common loons, 12 gulls, 12 bufflehead ducks and 22 cormorants.

Mystery Illness Strikes Penguins -
25 Nov 2007
K Waterworth
Area: New Zealand

Yellow-eyed penguins are dying in droves on Stewart Island and scientists are at a loss to explain why.

About 70 per cent of the penguin chicks have died over the past six years. Researchers for the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust (YEPT) along with Otago and Massey university scientists and the Department of Conservation cannot find a cause. "We don't know if the penguins are starving and then succumbing to disease or if they're diseased and then starving," said trust spokeswoman Sue Murray. Researchers have already found dead chicks from this year's generation, hatched over the past weeks.

Massey University's associate professor Maurice Alley, of the NZ Wildlife Health Centre, said blood samples showed cases of diphtheria or leucocytozoon a malaria-like parasite spread by sandflies that causes anaemia and weakness. Diptheria causes lesions in the mouth which prevent the chicks from eating. "It was very bad last year, all the nests at the top part of the island were affected. There are no vaccines at the moment but we're trying to get to the bottom of it," Alley said.

Monkey Meat at Center of NYC Court Case
The Associated Press -
25 Nov 2007
T Hays
Area: New York United States

From her baptism in Liberia to Christmas years later in her adopted New York City, Mamie Manneh never lost the longing to celebrate religious rituals by eating monkey meat. Now, the tribal customs of Manneh and other West African immigrants have become the focus of an unusual criminal case charging her with meat smuggling, and touching on issues of religious freedom, infectious diseases and wildlife preservation. The case "appears to be the first of its kind relating to that uniquely African product," defense attorney Jan Rostal wrote in a pending motion to dismiss. "Unfortunately, it represents the sort of clash of cultural and religious values inherent in the melting pot that is America."

At the center of the case in federal court is a modest woman with nine children and a history of domestic discord. The case dates to early 2006, when federal inspectors at JFK Airport examined a shipment of 12 cardboard boxes from Guinea. They were addressed to Manneh and, according to a flight manifest, contained African dresses and smoked fish with a value of $780. Instead, stashed underneath the smoked fish, the inspectors found what West Africans refer to as bushmeat: "skulls, limbs and torsos of non-human primate species" plus the hoof and leg of a small antelope, according to court papers.

Prion Discovery Surprises
Wisconsin State Journal -
25 Nov 2007
D Wahlberg
Photo courtesy of Craig Schreiner
Area: Wisconsin United States

Judd Aiken was pretty sure he knew what happens when prions, the misshapen proteins that cause chronic wasting disease in deer, bind to soil. The prions must become less infectious, he figured. But an experiment he conducted found the opposite -- big time: Soil-bound prions were 700 times more infectious than prions alone. "We were about as wrong as we could be, " said Aiken, a UW-Madison professor of animal health and biomedical sciences. "But that 's what makes science fun."

It 's also what makes prions, which also cause mad cow disease, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people, mysterious. "There 's so much we don 't know about these diseases, " he said. Aiken, a prion expert, was thrust into the spotlight six years ago when officials discovered CWD in Wisconsin deer. Now that 870 of the 132,000 deer tested in the state have been found to have the fatal brain disease, he is helping lead the effort to figure out how it is spread.

Toxic Clouds Fear over Gladstone
Courier Mail -
24 Nov 2007
E Burke
Area: Queensland Australia

A Wildlife carer in central Queensland has warned of suspected heavy-metals pollution in Gladstone following a series of bird deaths. The concerns have been raised in a week in which the Environmental Protection Agency was forced to admit there is no effective air-toxin monitoring in the industrial hub of Gladstone despite repeated claims by the State Government that the air there is safe. In June, The Sunday Mail revealed the rate of leukemia in Gladstone was more than double that of the rest of Queensland. Queensland Health figures show that between 1996 and 2004 there were 19 cases of chronic lymphoid leukemia diagnosed in the area.

Following our reports, then-premier Peter Beattie launched a two-year study into the air quality in Gladstone, due to be completed in 2009. Lyn Laskus, a volunteer rehabilitator registered with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, told The Sunday Mail she has had concerns over the health of birds brought to her from the region for several years. "But they have been getting worse in the last year. I take in birds from all over the region and the ones from Gladstone are causing me real concern," she said.



Evidence of the Role of European Wild Boar as a Reservoir of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Complex [online abstract only]
Veterinary Microbiology . 2007 Oct 10; [Epub ahead of print]
J Pilon et al.

Molecular Characterization of the Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) PRNP Putative Promoter [online abstract only]
Journal of Heredity . 2007 Nov 21; [Epub ahead of print]
CM Seabury et al.

Age-related Lesions in Laboratory-confined Raccoons (Procyon lotor) Inoculated with the Agent of Chronic Wasting Disease of Mule Deer [online abstract only]
Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. 2007 Nov;19(6):680-6.
AN Hamir et al.

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