Recent efforts by North American zoos to establish a genetically viable captive population of Pallas' cats (Otocolobus manul) have been compromised by high newborn mortality (∼60%), primarily because of toxoplasmosis. The basis for this extreme susceptibility to toxoplasmosis is unknown. In the present study, the general health status of wild Pallas' cats in Mongolia was evaluated, including assessment of basal hematologic parameters and fecal corticoid metabolite concentrations. The prevalence of exposure to Toxoplasma gondii in Mongolian Pallas' cats, local domestic cats, and prey species also was determined based on serology and/or polymerase chain reaction analysis. Biologic samples (blood, feces, and/or brain tissue) were obtained from 15 wild Pallas' cats, 15 domestic cats, and 45 prey animals (rodents and pikas) captured in Mongolia during the summers of 2000 and 2001. Comparative data were obtained from nine captive Pallas' cats maintained in North American zoos. Based on physical examinations, complete blood counts, and blood chemistry analyses, only minor differences were observed in the general health status of wild and captive Pallas' cats. Fecal cortisol metabolite concentrations did not differ (P>0.05) between populations, indicating that Pallas' cats in captivity and in the wild have similar basal adrenocortical activity. A pronounced difference (P<0.01) in seroprevalence to T. gondii was observed between populations. Whereas all captive Pallas' cats exhibited elevated immunoglobulin titers (IgG>2,048) to T. gondii, only two of 15 (13%) wild Pallas' cats were seropositive, with both cats having lower IgG titers (<1,024). Furthermore, no evidence of exposure to this parasite was found in any of the Mongolian domestic cats or prey species. These findings suggest that wild Pallas' cats have minimal opportunity for exposure to T. gondii in their natural habitat and, typically, do not become infected with this parasite until being brought into captivity. Accordingly, maintenance of a viable captive population may require implementing effective strategies to prevent exposure of immunologically naive Pallas' cats to T. gondii and to reduce parasite transmission between seropositive females and their highly susceptible offspring.
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Vol. 41 • No. 4