Morbidity and Mortality in Feathertail Gliders (Acrobates pygmaeus) at the Calgary Zoo
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2008
Douglas P. Whiteside1, DVM, DVSC, DACZM; Sandra R. Black1, DVM, Path Dipl; Stephen Raverty2, DVM, PhD, DACVP
1Calgary Zoo, Calgary, AB, Canada; 2Animal Health Centre, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Abbotsford, BC, Canada


Named for its long feather-shaped tail, the feathertail or pygmy glider (Acrobates pygmaeus) is the world’s smallest gliding mammal.4 The Calgary Zoo has displayed this charismatic mouse-sized marsupial since 1999, with 125 recorded individuals, 101 mortality or presumed mortality events, 18 morbidity events, and 78 pathology records occurring during the last 8 years. In adult gliders, the two most common causes of morbidity and mortality were breeding exhaustion (26% of recorded events) and trauma (16% of recorded events), while mismothering with subsequent presumptive hypoglycemia/hypothermia was the most common cause of morbidity and mortality in neonates (100% of recorded events). At necropsy, aerobic culture of lungs yielded growth of Sphingobacterium sp., Escherichia coli, coagulase-negative Staphylococcus sp., Klebsiella sp., Bacillus sp., Serratia sp., and Morganella morganii, while hepatic cultures yielded Proteus mirabilis, Enterobacter sp., Enterococcus sp., Klebsiella sp., E. coli, coagulase-negative Staphylococcus sp., Streptococcus viridans, Citrobacter freundii, Serratia sp., Pseudomonas sp., and Morganella morganii. The significance of these isolates was generally considered equivocal in the absence of histologic changes. In cases where cystitis and endometritis were noted, the only two isolates recovered were E. coli and Enterococcus sp. Two noteworthy mycotic infections were diagnosed histologically: enteric or tracheal candidiasis (six cases), which is often associated with stressed or immunocompromised individuals,2 and pulmonary and nasal cryptococcosis (two cases), which is considered an important emerging zoonotic disease.1 Neoplasia is of significant concern in the species with two hepatic tumours (hepatocellular carcinoma and a metastatic cholangiocarcinoma), and eight cases of microchip-associated soft tissue sarcomas which have been noted in both domestic and exotic mammalian species.3 Of special note, hepatic hemosiderosis was noted in 35% of cases evaluated histologically with no associated clinical or pathologic significance.


The authors would like to thank the veterinary technologists (Lori Rogers, Wanda Angermeyer, and Lynn Klassen), past veterinary interns (Drs. Chantal Proulx, Liza Dadone, Amanda Salb, and Owen Slater), and the animal keeping staff at the Calgary Zoo for their invaluable assistance with these cases.

Literature Cited

1.  Duncan C, Schwantje H, Stephen C, Campbell J, Bartlett K. Cryptococcus gattii in wildlife of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. J Wildl Dis. 2006;42(1):175–178.

2.  Richardson MD. Changing patterns and trends in systemic fungal infections. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2005;56 Suppl 1:i5–i11.

3.  Siegal-Willott J, Heard D, Sliess N, Naydan D, Roberts J. Microchip-associated leiomyosarcoma in an Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). J Zoo Wildl Med. 2007;38(2):352–356.

4.  Vaughan TA, Ryan JM, Czaplewski NJ. Mammalogy. 4th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders College Publishing; 2000.


Speaker Information
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Douglas P. Whiteside, DVM, DVSC, DACZM
Calgary Zoo
Calgary, AB, Canada

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