Cholelithiasis in Callitrichids in European Zoos
2018 Joint EAZWV/AAZV/Leibniz-IZW Conference
Baptiste Chenet1*, DVM; Thierry Petit2, DVM
1Parc de Lunaret - Zoo de Montpellier, Montpellier, France; 2Zoo de la Palmyre, Les Mathes, France


In order to better understand cholelithiasis in callitrichids, a questionnaire was sent to callitrichid-holding European zoos.

The response rate to this questionnaire was 20.7%, which represented a study population of 1306 animals (535 Saguinus sp., 431 Callithrix sp., 225 Leontopithecus sp., and 115 Callimico goeldii). This population is not statistically representative of the European population due to an overrepresentation of Leontopithecus species.

Twenty-eight (28) individual cases of cholelithiasis were recorded (3 Callithrix sp., 25 Leontopithecus sp.). The results suggest that Leontopithecus species are significantly predisposed to cholelithiasis whereas Saguinus and Callimico species do not develop this disease; which is consistent with the genus repartition found in the literature.5-7 The mean age at diagnosis of cholelithiasis was 18 years, supporting a predilection towards older individuals being affected by this disease. A multiseptate gallbladder was present in 55.6% of the cholelithiasis cases. Gender, weight, or nutrition were not identified as risk factors.

Cholelithiasis is difficult to diagnose, as 21.5% of cases were asymptomatic. When present, clinical signs were not specific (emaciation, weakness, and chronic intermittent diarrhea). Icterus was present in only 21.4% of the cases. Radiography and ultrasonography are complementary when used together, increasing the likelihood of detection. Elevations in alkaline phosphatase, bilirubin, and GGT were the most consistent biochemistry markers in affected individuals.

Pigment choleliths accounted for all callitrichid choleliths described in the survey, which is distinct from the more commonly described cholesterol choleliths seen in other primate species.1,4 Although the etiology of callitrichid pigment cholelithiasis is currently unknown, hemolytic anemia and infections of the gallbladder have been associated with the formation of certain types of pigment choleliths in humans.2,3,8 Enterobacter sakazakii, Escherichia coli, Clostridium sp., and Proteus sp. were cultured from the bile in two cases. E. coli is often associated with human brown pigment stones.3,8

As a conclusion, cholelithiasis should be included in differential diagnosis for non-specific symptoms in aged Leontopithecus tamarins.


The authors would like to thank the callitrichid TAG, all the callitrichid EEP coordinators and all the zoological institutions that answered to this study.

Literature Cited

1.  Brady AG, Carville AAL. Digestive system diseases of nonhuman primates. In: Abee C, Mansfield K, Tardif S, Morris T, eds. Nonhuman Primates in Biomedical Research, Vol 2. San Diego, CA: Elsevier; 2012:589–627.

2.  Burnett W, Dwyer KR, Kennard CHL. Black pigment or polybilirubinate gallstones. Ann Surg. 1981;193:331–333.

3.  Cetta FM. The role of bacteria in pigment gallstone disease. Ann Surg. 1991;213:315–326.

4.  Melchior GW, Clarkson TB, Bullock BC, Lofland HB. Cholelithiasis in nonhuman primates: effects of species and type of dietary fat. Circulation Suppl. 1972;45–46:11–19.

5.  Pissinatti A, Batista Da Cruz J, Dias Do Nascimento M, Da Rocha E Silva R, Coimra-Filho AF. Spontaneous gallstones in marmosets and tamarins (Callitrichidae, Primates). Folia Primatol. 1992;59:44–50.

6.  Smith KM, Calle P, Raphael BL, James S, Moore R, Mac Aloose D, Baitchman E. Cholelithiasis in four callitrichid species (Leonpithecus, Callithrix). J Zoo Wild Med. 2006;37:44–48.

7.  Tucker MJ. A survey of the pathology of marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) under experiment. Lab Anim. 1984;18:351–358.

8.  Vlahcevic ZR, Heuman DM. Diseases of the gallbladder and bile ducts. In: Goldman L, Bennett JC, eds. Cecil Textbook of Medicine, 21st ed. W. B. Saunders Co.; 2000:821–833.


Speaker Information
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Baptiste Chenet, DVM
Parc de Lunaret – Zoo de Montpellier
Montpellier, France

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