Penguins and malaria
Published: 28th Sep 2016At Living Coasts we do everything we can do protect our penguins from diseases like avian malaria.
The news that Exmoor Zoo has lost its entire colony of penguins to avian malaria is very sad indeed. We send our best wishes to Danny, Lyn and the rest of the team.
Like other collections, we do things to protect our penguins from things like avian malaria. Living Coasts has two species of penguin – African penguins and macaroni penguins. There are about 90 in total.
Birds all around the world are affected by avian malaria, apart from those in Antarctica. Penguins are most susceptible in zoos, as in the wild they do not encounter malaria, especially close to the South Polar region. Penguins further north live mainly in windy coastal areas. African penguins have a slight natural resistance because they come from the African continent.
The mosquitos need warm and wet conditions, fresh water and vegetation - the habitats in which penguins live do not have these.
Grey, damp, warm and humid weather during the month of September is the worst combination for avian malaria. This is the time when you get mosquitos and the windless, warm and wet air is exactly what they need.
Living Coasts does many things to protect its penguin colony from malaria. Firstly, as Torquay’s coastal zoo, it is well-placed with its feet in the Bay to benefit from sea breezes. The net canopy keeps out birds that might be carrying the disease. Also, we use a fan to keep the air moving if needs be, and we have planted aromatic lavender – a well-known natural mosquito repellent - around the penguins. We also spray citronella and hang clove oil bags. These are all tricks familiar to anyone who has tried to ward off insects.
In addition, we can give penguins human anti-malaria medicine, but there’s been little research into using them with penguins and amounts are not easy to calculate. Even then, as with people, there’s no guarantee.