Rodents on Zoo Grounds: The Risk of Zoonotic Pathogen Transmission
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2011
Sharon L. Deem1, DVM, PhD, DACZM; Dawn Zimmerman2, DVM, MS; Joe Flanagan3, DVM
1Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis, MO, USA; 2Memphis Zoo, Memphis, TN, USA; 3Houston Zoo, Houston, TX, USA


Rodents are common vertebrate pests on zoo grounds. These wild rodents present many challenges for zoos including hygiene issues, competition with collection animals for food, and the transmission of disease pathogens to collection animals and/or humans. As a group, rodents are probably the predominant natural reservoirs for pathogens that cause disease in humans (Table 1). In addition to wild rodents on zoo grounds, many zoos have rodent species within their collections, with a number of these species used as contact animals. Disease issues in these zoo animals are also of concern as they may serve as reservoirs of exotic zoonotic pathogens. The zoo veterinarian should be familiar with rodent-borne zoonotic pathogens both within their region and regions where collection rodents originate, risk of zoonotic transmission, methods to control wild rodents, and preventive measures that minimize the risk of zoonotic pathogen transmission to zoo staff and visitors.

Table 1. Zoonotic pathogens of rodent species





Borrelia burgdorferi

Cryptosporidium parvum



Echinococcus spp.

Hemorrhagic viruses

Francisella tularensis

Sarcoptes scabiei

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus

Leptospira interrogans spp.

Taenia taeniaeformis


Rat bite fever
(Streptobacillus moniliformis and Spirillum minus)

Toxoplasma gondii


Salmonella spp.

Trichophyton spp. (ringworm)


Yersinia pestis



Speaker Information
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Sharon L. Deem, DVM, PhD, DACZM
Saint Louis Zoo
Saint Louis, MO, USA

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