Over the course of the last month, we have appreciated your condolences at the loss of our two North American river otters. We know Gladys and Finley were very much a part of your visits to the Zoo, and we miss them, too.
As we stated in our last blog, we gathered a significant amount of samples to be tested and as promised, we would like to share what we have learned so far.
A severe infection of coccidia, a type of parasite, was found by a pathologist in the otters’ intestines. The previous routine fecal exam, done five months before, did not show any evidence of this infection. Our Zoo animals receive routine fecal exams for parasites every six months.
The coccidia parasite caused major damage to the otters’ intestinal tracts, disrupting normal functions and creating an imbalance in the intestinal tract. This allowed for a Clostridium bacteria to spread. The Clostridium produced a toxin, which we believe then spread and caused the otters’ deaths.
We have since learned that this coccidia species has never been identified before. Typically, this parasite does not lead to rapid and fatal outcomes, so our veterinary team is working with a parasitologist and a molecular lab to learn more so we can share this information with the zoo and scientific community.
We feel confident that this is an isolated incident. Testing determined that there were no toxins in the otters’ water or diet. Fecal toxin and infectious disease testing were performed on all our other carnivores at the Zoo and did not reveal any abnormalities.
Losing an animal at our Zoo is a tremendous loss for us as well as for our community. Finding answers to the cause of an animal’s death is not always easy, but we strive to learn more about the animals in our care upon their passing. We were fortunate in this case to receive answers and hope that by learning more about this unknown coccidia species, we can help inform animal care research worldwide.