An environmental microbiologic investigation was conducted in an alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) holding facility in a zoo in the southeastern U.S. The facility had housed five alligators between March 1999 and February 2005. In the exhibit, one alligator died and all experienced poor health. It was hypothesized that environmental microbial contamination was associated with these issues. Samples were collected for fungal identification and quantification, microcystin analysis, and airborne mycotoxins. Analyses of air and water were conducted and an examination of the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system (HVAC) for design, maintenance, and operating issues was made. Two control sites, a facility for false gharials (Tomistoma schlegelii) and an off-site alligator breeding facility, were also tested. Morbidity and mortality records were examined for all sites. Results showed that, compared to the control sites, the test alligator facility and its HVAC system were extensively contaminated with a range of fungi. Nearly all sampled surfaces featured fungal growth. There were also significantly higher counts of Penicillium/Aspergillus-like and Chrysosporium-like spores in the air (P < 0.004). The design, maintenance, and operation of the HVAC system were all inadequate, resulting in poorly conditioned and mold-contaminated air being introduced to the facility. Morbidity records revealed solitary pulmonary disorders over time in three alligators, with one dying as a result. The other two alligators suffered from general malaise and a range of nonspecific symptoms. The control facilities had no morbidity or mortality issues. In conclusion, although no causal links could be demonstrated because of the nature of the morbidity data, environmental mold contamination appeared to be associated with the history of morbidity and mortality in the alligator exhibit.
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Vol. 37 • No. 2