Retrospective study of morbidity and mortality of african penguins (spheniscus demersus) under managed care in North America: 2007-2018

Kelsey Trumpp, Samantha Sander, William Sander, Dawn Zimmerman, Ellen Bronson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Currently, more than 20% (51/240) of zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums house African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) in their collections. The African penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP) veterinary advisors regularly collect information from those facilities to characterize morbidity and mortality for this species and to collate preventative medicine and treatment regimens. These efforts resulted in more than 10 yr of collection of management data across the SSP, representing the care and management of more than a thousand birds. The most common morbidities reported included those of dermatologic (27%, 125/452 institutions) and musculoskeletal or neurologic (18%, 82/452 institutions) disease, while the most common causes of mortality were respiratory diseases (20%, 65/323 deaths) and systemic or multifactorial conditions (19%, 62/323 deaths). Aspergillosis cases accounted for 69% (45/65 deaths) of respiratory-related mortality and avian malaria cases comprised 31% (19/62 deaths) of mortality related to systemic diseases. Mortality was most commonly reported in geriatric birds, or those older than 15 yr of age (34%, 111/323 deaths). Reproductive related mortality was only defined in female birds, while other causes of death were more evenly distributed between sexes. Utilizing the SSP data to determine morbidity and mortality trends within this population provides important information to veterinary and animal care teams, allowing them to provide enhanced levels of care to the penguins housed at their institutions. By recognizing the most important diseases and causes of death in this species, management and healthcare resources can target conditions with the highest impact on the population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1135-1142
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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