The population of New Zealand’s yellow-eyed penguins, also called hoiho, are predicted to become extinct from its mainland coastal habitat in the next 20-30 years, with disease a major factor leading to their decline. One disease causes painful oral lesions which make it difficult for chicks to feed, leading to substantial morbidity and mortality in pre-fledglings. In 2020 alone, more than half of the mainland population of chicks was affected and 30% perished from the disease. Although a bacteria has been inconsistently isolated from these lesions, it is suspected that an underlying viral pathogen is the causitive agent. More recently, a new disease of unknown origin causing lung congestion was identified in very young chicks, resulting in additional losses in 44% of chicks less than one to two weeks of age in the 2020/21 breeding season. Researchers aim to identify causative pathogens responsible for these two diseases in hoiho. The team will use advanced genetic sequencing technology that also will help them evaluate immune system responses of penguins to further identify additional contributors to disease. Findings will help inform disease management strategies, including associated risk factors, in critically endangered hoiho and possibly other at-risk penguin species.
Grant amount awarded
Janelle R Wierenga, DVM, MPH, Dip.ACVECC