Diagnosis of tuberculosis in wildlife often relies on postmortem samples because of logistical challenges and lack of field-friendly techniques for live animal testing. Confirmation of infection through detection of infectious organisms is essential for studying the pathogenesis and epidemiology of disease. We describe the application of a technique to obtain respiratory samples from free-ranging living lions to facilitate detection of viable Mycobacterium bovis under field conditions. We identified M. bovis by mycobacterial culture and PCR in tracheobronchial lavage samples from 8/134 (6.0%) lions tested in Kruger National Park, South Africa. This confirms the respiratory shedding of viable M. bovis in living lions. The implications of these results are that infected lions have the potential to transmit this disease and serve as maintenance hosts.
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Vol. 51 • No. 2