A 7.5 year-old Patagonian sea lion (Otaria flavescens) held at the Parc Zoologique d'Amneville in France died in June 2008 during an exploratory laparoscopy to identify and possibly remove an ovarian tumor. Multiple tumor-like masses were identified in the abdominal cavity and the lungs appeared to have a cottage-cheese aspect during the laparoscopy. A necropsy was performed the next morning and the general aspect was one of a necrotic lymph node metastatic type of neoplastic process. Histopathology revealed diffuse neoplastic proliferation in the ovaries with precise characterisation still pending. The abdominal, mediastinal and pulmonary lesions were suggestive of a multicentric granulomatous inflammatory process. Ziehl-Neelsen and Fite-Faraco colorations on affected tissues were negative for acid-fast bacilli. Nevertheless, the aforementioned lesions were all positive for Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex PCR, and four of them were identified as M. pinnipedii by molecular characterization (PCR-RFLP gyrB). Bacteriological growth of mycobacteria remained negative after 4 months of culture. Spoligotyping on DNA present in the samples is pending. This animal had been previously tested, two months prior to its death, by the RT and MAPIA serological assays and was negative. Strict sanitary preventive measures have been undertaken at the park. This particular animal was captive born, arrived at the park in 2004 and originated from a zoo in the Netherlands, where a outbreak of tuberculosis occurred recently in sea lions.7 There have been several reports of mycobacterial infections in captive sea lions over the last decade. At least 12 institutions, including 10 in Europe in the last 10 years, have confirmed cases or positive results with serological diagnosis (Rapid Test-Multi Antigen Print Immuno-Assay)1-6,8-13 particularly in the Patagonian sea lion. Although staff within the zoological community are conscious and aware of the risk associated with this disease, the significance of this problem is still often disregarded within the field of strictly aquatic institutions, such as oceanaria. The purpose of this report is to draw again the attention of our colleagues in this field on this important, often chronically silent, and zoonotic infection.
Many thanks to all my colleagues in the marine mammal field (Ricardo Bastida-Argentina, Debby Cousins - OIE Reference Laboratory for Tuberculosis, Australia, Daniel Garcia Parraga - L'Oceanografic, Valencia, Spain, David Gomis & Pierre Moisson - Zoo de Mulhouse, France, Kerstin Jurczynski - Duisburg Zoo, Germany, Albert Klarenbeek - Emmen Zoo, The Netherlands, Sonia Tortschanoff - Le Pal, France and Catherine Wardzynski - Pont Scorff, France.) for providing me with information relative to mycobacteria in general and more particularly from their own facility.
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