A longitudinal study was conducted of the prevalence and characteristics of Escherichia coli in mammals, birds, and reptiles housed at the Emperor Valley Zoo, Trinidad. During a 6-mo study period, swabs were obtained from fecal samples that were randomly collected from the enclosures of animals from these three taxonomic groups every 3 wk. With snakes, both cloacal and fecal swabs were obtained. Fecal and cloacal swabs were cultured for E. coli on eosin methylene blue agar. The production of mucoid colonies and hemolytic colonies and non-sorbitol fermenter status were identified. The occurrence of O157 strains was determined amongst E. coli isolates that were non-sorbitol fermenters, and the disc diffusion method was used to determine the antibiograms of isolates. The frequency of E. coli isolation was significantly higher in mammals compared with birds and reptiles. Overall, the frequencies of isolation of E. coli from omnivores, herbivores, and carnivores, 87.2%, 70.0%, and 57.3%, respectively, regardless of animal class, were significantly different. Most (99.6%) of the E. coli isolates tested for antibiotic sensitivity exhibited resistance to one or more of the eight antimicrobial agents used. The possession of phenotypic virulence markers by the E. coli isolates studied and the generally high resistance to antimicrobial agents may have health implications for the zoological collection.
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Vol. 31 • No. 3