Mycobacterium bovis, the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (BTB), is endemic in the Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa. African lions (Panthera leo) are susceptible to BTB, but the impact of the disease on lion populations is unknown. In this study, we used a novel gene expression assay for chemokine (C-X-C motif) ligand 9 (CXCL9) to measure the prevalence of M. bovis infection in 70 free-ranging lions that were opportunistically sampled in the southern and central regions of the KNP. In the southern region of the KNP, the apparent prevalence of M. bovis infection was 54% (95% confidence interval [CI]=36.9–70.5%), compared with 33% (95% CI=18.0–51.8%) in the central region, an important difference (P=0.08). Prevalence of M. bovis infection in lions showed similar patterns to estimated BTB prevalence in African buffaloes (Syncerus caffer) in the same areas. Investigation of other risk factors showed a trend for older lions, males, or lions with concurrent feline immunodeficiency virus infection to have a higher M. bovis prevalence. Our findings demonstrate that the CXCL9 gene expression assay is a useful tool for the determination of M. bovis status in free-ranging lions and identifies important epidemiologic trends for future studies.
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