Black-footed ferrets (BFF; Mustela nigripes) were listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1967, and became extinct in the wild in the 1980s. Since 1986, multiple institutions have bred BFF in captivity with reintroductions into the wild in their former geographic range. Coccidial enteritis is a major cause of death in young, captive BFF. As a result, fewer captive-bred ferrets may be reared successfully for release to the wild. Consequently, the prevention and control of coccidial outbreaks is an important part of the BFF recovery program. A research program was undertaken to improve in situ and ex situ BFF health through the investigation of the natural history and pathologic features of enteric coccidiosis in this species. Data on morbidity, mortality, clinical signs and shedding of coccidial oocysts from BFF at the Toronto Zoo were collected from 2014–2016. Coccidia isolated from captive BFF fecal samples and identified in a retrospective examination of BFF necropsy tissue from 1999–2016 were characterized using morphometric data and/or molecular diagnostics, and compared to novel and published data from domestic ferrets (Mustela putorius furo).1,2 Only one coccidial species, Eimeria cf. ictidea, was identified from enteritis and mortality events in captive BFF (1999–2016); mitochondrial whole genome sequencing of this pathogen was achieved. A pilot study performed using the domestic ferret as a model species showed that patent infection can be induced with E. cf. ictidea originating from BFF, opening the way for future investigations into the control and treatment of enteric coccidiosis.
The authors would like to thank the Toronto Zoo staff and the Barta Lab at the University of Guelph for their assistance with this project. Authors appreciate the support of the black-footed ferret SSP in conducting this project and the submission of samples from the SSP population at the Louisville Zoo.
1. Niichiro A, Tomoaki T, Georuge O, Motohiro I. First record of Eimeria furonis infection in a ferret, Japan, with notes on the usefulness of partial small subunit ribosomal RNA gene sequencing analysis for discriminating among Eimeria species. Parasitol Res. 2008;103:967–970.
2. Sledge DG, Bolin SR, Lim A, Kaloustian LL, Heller RL, Carmona FM, Kiupel M. Outbreaks of severe enteric disease associated with Eimeria furonis infection in ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) of 3 densely populated groups. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2011;239:1584–1588.