The Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development (Neiker-Tecnalia) has completed a study commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Land Use Planning, Agriculture and Fisheries of the Basque Government, in which individuals of various species of wild carnivores were investigated in order to know the types and frequencies of diseases affecting them. The study was restricted to the Basque Country and showed the presence of pathogens such as Salmonella, Yersinia, Toxoplasma, Trichinella and Sarcoptes. In addition to these, finding of other agents represent their first description in Basque wildlife. This is the case of some species of Bartonella, Angiostrongylus and the fungus Coccidioides immitis. These findings confirm the importance of maintaining surveillance programs on the pathology of wildlife.
The study was performed on 215 dead wild carnivores from ten different species: badgers, foxes, pine martens, genets, wolves, beech martens, weasels, wild cats, polecats and American minks. Each one was submitted to a systematic and complete necropsy at which representative samples were taken for histopathological, microbiological, parasitological and molecular analyses.
Among the pathogens detected in the study it is worth mentioning several species of Salmonella (9%), Yersinia (6%), Toxoplasma (9%) and Bartonella (6%).
The results of the research show that wild carnivores, located at the top of the food chain, can be good indicators of the health status of the wild population on which they prey, in regard to diseases of broad host range and especially those of zoonotic and emerging characteristics. Neiker-Tecnalia´s study confirms that important pathogens affecting domestic animals and humans are circulating in the Basque Country. In the case of carnivores, it is clear that the main route of infection is the ingestion of preys infected by infectious agents.
It is worth noting the role of the badger and the fox as candidates of choice in surveillance studies because these are two common and abundant species. Their study has enabled identifying a pathogenic agent transmissible to humans and not described to date in wildlife in Europe, as is the fungus Coccidioides immitis, found in a badger. Badgers were also carriers of a hitherto unkown species of bacteria of the genus Bartonella, affecting a large number of them. Finally, the study of these mustelids enabled the identification of a possible new specie of nematode of the genus Angiostrongylus, which could only match a single obscure report of a similar finding of a few Mustelid angiostrongylii in Bulgaria.
The presence of Bartonella rochalimae, detected in foxes and wolves, could be the first description in Spain of this bacteria, which is transmissible to humans. The study of foxes enabled the confirmation of the existence of parasites of the genus Trichinella, responsible of trichinellosis, as well as of the presence of the mite Sarcoptes scabiei, that cause sarcoptic mange.
Diseases of wildlife are receiving increasing attention from health professionals and society in general because of its possible role as reservoirs and vectors of infectious diseases to domestic animals and people. Also pose an interesting challenge for the study of inter-specific relationships in complex ecological systems in which they may have negative repercussions for the preservation of threatened species.