Aflatoxins, toxic metabolites of Aspergillus flavus or Aspergillus parasiticus, cause poor feed utilization, decreased weight gains, depressed immune function, liver dysfunction, coagulation abnormalities, and death in a wide variety of species including humans. Conservationists have become concerned that increasingly popular wildlife feeding or baiting practices could expose wildlife to toxic amounts of aflatoxin-contaminated grains. In particular, the effects of aflatoxins on the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopova silvestris) are of concern because the conspecific domestic turkey is highly susceptible to aflatoxins. To evaluate the effect of dietary aflatoxin on wild turkeys, four groups of 4-mo-old wild turkeys were fed diets containing either 0, 100, 200, or 400 μg aflatoxin/kg feed for 2 wk in September and October 1996. Aflatoxin-fed poults had decreased feed consumption and weight gains as compared with control poults. Decreased liver-to-body weight ratios, liver enzyme alterations, slightly altered blood coagulation patterns, and mild histologic changes indicated low-level liver damage. Compromise of cell-mediated immunity was indicated by decreased lymphoblast transformation. The effects were apparent in all treatment groups to variable levels, but significant differences most often were found at 400 μg aflatoxin/kg feed. This study shows that short-term aflatoxin ingestion by wild turkeys can induce undesirable physiologic changes; therefore, exposure of wild turkeys to feeds containing aflatoxin levels of 100 μg aflatoxin/kg feed or more should be avoided.
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Vol. 36 • No. 3