A morphologic and molecular epidemiologic investigation was conducted on a captive African black-footed penguin (Spheniscus demersus) colony with a history of Plasmodium infections at La Palmyre Zoo (France). Each penguin received 12.5 mg of pyrimethamine twice a week as a prophylaxis every year from April to November. Although Plasmodium parasites were not detected in blood smears and tissues collected from the penguins, various blood parasites were recorded in blood smears from wild Eurasian magpies (Pica pica) and carrion crows (Corvus corone) sampled at the same time in the study area. These parasites consisted of several Plasmodium spp. (P. lenoblei, P. dorsti, P. bioccai, P. relictum, P. dherteae, P. beaucournui, P. maior, P. tranieri, and P. snounoui), Parahaemoproteus spp., Trypanosoma spp., and Leucocytozoon spp. On the other hand, nested polymerase chain reaction enabled detection of Plasmodium DNA in 28/44 (64%) penguins, 15/25 (60%) magpies, and 4/9 (44%) crows. Sequencing and phylogenetic analyses indicated that the parasite DNA amplified from the penguins, magpies, and crows were similar. Magpies and crows could therefore act as a reservoir for penguin Plasmodium infections, which may be more prevalent than previously thought. Morphologic characterization of the Plasmodium spp. detected in the penguins, as well as further biological and epidemiologic studies, are needed to fully understand the transmission of Plasmodium parasites to captive penguins.
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