Longleat shuts penguin enclosure after new malaria deaths

Humboldt Penguins Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Humboldt penguins are native to South America

A safari park is to permanently close its penguin enclosure after several birds died following a second outbreak of malaria.

Longleat in Wiltshire said a number of Humboldt penguins had died after contracting the avian strain of the disease from mosquitoes.

Avian malaria cannot be passed on to humans, but the park has decided to close Penguin Island to visitors.

The safari park described it as "a difficult decision".

Longleat said it had put measures in place to protect the birds since the first outbreak of avian malaria in 2016, but "despite our best efforts" the park has decided to close Penguin Island in January.

Head keeper Graeme Dick said: "This will be the last year that we hold penguins here at Longleat.

"The penguins are very susceptible to the problem and this is the second year now that we've been hit with the disease."

What is avian malaria?

  • Avian malaria is caused by a different parasite to human malaria, and is endemic in domestic birds
  • The human form is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito, which does not thrive in colder areas of Europe
  • However, the parasite that is carried by the Culex mosquito, which causes the avian strain, is an established UK species
  • Although it does not usually kill, it can be lethal to species which have not evolved resistance to the disease, such as penguins

Mr Dick said the remaining penguins would be "moved on to a nice, new home" and the enclosure would be "repurposed for another species".

Humboldt penguins are normally found around coastal areas of Peru and Chile.

They are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which means they are at immediate or imminent risk of becoming endangered.

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