JUL 14, 2019 6:21 AM PDT

Parasitic Worm to Blame for a Skin Disease in Wild Giraffes, Researchers Say

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes the humble giraffe as a species that is vulnerable to extinction, and with that in mind, it should come as no surprise to anyone that conservationists are just a bit concerned about a skin disease that seems to be ravaging wild giraffe populations.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Giraffes’ bodies are naturally covered in spots, but some wild specimens appear to be exhibiting an unsightly type of spot comprised of oozing sores. The circumstances purportedly triggered a full-scale investigation into the case to protect wild giraffes from any potential stresses that could impact population sustainment. The findings will soon be published in a paper in an upcoming iteration of the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

"Universally, giraffes are very much in decline, primarily from habitat loss but also from poaching," explained Tufts University’s Chris Whittier, an author of the aforementioned paper. "We can't ignore secondary threats, such as infectious diseases, because any little thing could become an extinction-level event when there aren't many individuals of certain species left."

Related: Will giraffes get the protections they desperately need under the Endangered Species Act?

Upon collecting biological samples from at least seven affected giraffes, the researchers found a parasitic worm in the midst. A genetic analysis later found that the worm likely belongs to the genus Stephanofilaria, and as it would seem, this parasite is commonly transmitted among domestic cattle by way of biting flies.

Armed with this knowledge, the researchers treated some of the impacted giraffes with a worming medication that is often used in domestic cattle to prevent these skin conditions, and every one of the treated giraffes is said to have recovered. As for why the disease appears to be jumping between cattle and giraffes, it seems that Whittier has a theory:

"There's potentially a lot of interface between livestock and wildlife in Africa," Whittier said. "Even when a national park doesn't allow cattle grazing inside, that doesn't mean that it isn't happening. And often when livestock is allowed in the buffer zone around a national park, there are plenty of places around the edges where the wild animals inside may be separated by only 100 yards from cattle grazing outside. So even though these species are right where they are supposed to be, they're certainly close enough that flies could be going back and forth between them."

Related: Two giraffes purportedly died in Florida as a result of a lightning strike

Despite identifying the cause of the giraffes’ skin conditions and finding a viable cure for it, researchers continue to investigate ways of preventing its transmission entirely, as this would prevent it from hindering giraffe health and reproduction and impacting their conservation status in the wild.

It should be interesting to see what will become of that research, especially since giraffes are such an iconic part of Africa’s wild animal roster.

Source: Tufts University via Phys.org, IUCN

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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