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Over 70% of the Humboldt penguin colony at Dudley Zoo has died due to an outbreak of Avian Malaria.

The number currently stands at 50 birds out of the 69-bird colony.

The colony was raised from five-hand reared chicks in 1991 and has grown into one of the largest colonies in the UK. Often these penguins are used to help boost other groups in the country either as new colonies or as part of breeding programs.

Avian malaria is caused by a different parasite to human malaria and these even travel in different species of mosquito. The reason we don’t get human malaria outbreaks in the UK is that the Anopheles mosquito which caries that particular parasite can’t survive well in our cold weather.

The Culex mosquito, on the other hand, has no problem living in the UK and it is this species which carries the Avian malaria parasite.

Most of our UK species have evolved alongside Avian malaria and so have a level of resistance. The disease can still be bad, but it isn’t often life threatening.

Humboldt penguins don’t have this natural resistance to Avian malaria and so when one of them gets it, the whole colony can be in dire peril.

This isn’t the first time that a Humboldt penguin colony has been hit by the disease. There were outbreaks in Longleat in 2016 and 2018 which resulted in Longleat giving up their penguins altogether. While this disease isn’t passed onto humans it is clearly going to be devasting for the staff and is such a sad story to read. A few quotes I’ve found on the web from director Derek Grove say that has been “especially distressing” for the bird team, who have been devoted to their care. “Their dedication and tireless efforts to care for our penguins over recent weeks has been exemplary. They’ve provided round-the-clock care to individually treat the birds in their fight to save as many as possible and we thank them for their determination. Having consulted with avian experts and animal collections around the world, we know we’ve done all we can.”

Header Image © Jgz/Fotolia

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