African lion (Panthera leo) numbers are decreasing rapidly and populations are becoming smaller and more fragmented. Infectious diseases are one of numerous issues threatening free-ranging lion populations, and low-density populations are particularly at risk. We collected data on the prevalence and diversity of viral and parasitic pathogens in a small lion population in eastern Botswana. During 2012 and 2014, blood samples were collected from 59% (n=13) of the adult-subadult lions in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in eastern Botswana. One lion had antibodies to feline panleukopenia virus, two had antibodies to canine distemper virus, and two had feline calicivirus antibodies. Ten of the 13 had antibodies to feline immunodeficiency virus and 11 had feline herpesvirus antibodies. All lions were negative for antibodies to feline coronavirus. Blood samples from all lions were negative for Trypanosoma, Anaplasma, Theileria, and Ehrlichia spp. by molecular testing; however, all lions were positive for Babesia spp. by reverse line blot hybridization assay. Sequencing of amplicons from four lions revealed four groups of Babesia spp. including several genetic variants of Babesia felis, Babesia lengau, and Babesia canis and a group of novel Babesia sequences which were only 96% similar to other Babesia spp. Six lions were infested with four species of ticks (Rhipicentor nuttalli, Rhipicephalus simus, Rhipicephalus sulcatus, and Rhipicephalus appendiculatus). These data provide the first health assessment of this population and can be used to identify management and conservation strategies to decrease the impact of pathogens on this population. This is particularly important as there is an initiative to incorporate this population into a larger metapopulation of lions from adjacent South Africa and Zimbabwe.
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Vol. 53 • No. 1