6 penguins dead at Lafayette zoo, avian malaria suspected

(Provided Photo/Columbian Park Zoo)

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WISH) — Six African penguins at the Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette have died and the remaining three in the zoo’s care are in critical condition. Officials believe avian malaria is the cause.

Zoo officials first noticed one of the penguins showing symptoms on Oct. 24 and tests were conducted on him. He was found dead on Oct. 24 and a necropsy provided inconclusive results. On Nov. 2, a blood test showed exposure to Plasmodium, a protozoan that causes avian malaria and is transmitted by bites from infected mosquitos.

“Avian malaria is one of the most significant causes of mortality in penguins, with rates as high as 50-90 percent,” Zoo Director Neil Dale said in a statement. “Despite the best efforts of our veterinarian and staff, who provided around the clock care administering anti-malarial medications and other intensive care measures, we were unable to stop the progression of the infections.”

Avian malaria cannot be transmitted to humans, bird-to-bird or to other zoo animals. The zoo says penguins are highly susceptible.