CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Researchers tracking the spread of Toxoplasma gondii a parasite that reproduces only in cats but sickens and kills many other animals have found infected wildlife throughout a 1,500-acre (600-hectare) natural area in central Illinois.
The researchers also found dozens of free-ranging cats in the area, the Robert Allerton Park, near Monticello, Ill. Two years of tracking, trapping and motion-triggered night photography at eight sites in the park found no evidence of bobcats, but plenty of examples of feral or abandoned house cats, many of them infected with Toxoplasma.
The research appears in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.
T. gondii reproduces in cats and is shed in their feces. Other animals pick it up from soil or water or by eating infected animals. Infection can lead to neurological problems, and sometimes death, in humans and other animals.
The researchers trapped, sedated and collected blood samples from 18 cats and hundreds of other mammals, including raccoons, opossums, squirrels, mice, woodchucks, chipmunks and rabbits. All of the animals were tagged and released where they were found.
(Watch a slide show about the research.)
One third of the cats sampled were infected with T gondii, as were significant numbers of the wild animals found at every site. Animals that inhabit or range over territories of 247 acres (100 hectares) or more, such as raccoons and opossums, were more likely to be infected than those with smaller ranges.
But these animals "could have acquired T. gondii infection somewhere outside of the park," said Nohra Mateus-Pinilla, a wildlife veterinary epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute and leader of the study. Animals with smaller home ranges likely
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign