Fatal Infection of a Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) with a Versteria sp. Parasite: Use of Deep-Sequencing Techniques to Identify an Unknown Pathogen and Its Source
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2015
Tony L. Goldberg1, DVM, PhD; Sam Sibley1, PhD; Laura Lee1, BS; Annette Gendron-Fitzpatrick1, DVM, PhD, DACVP; Victoria L. Clyde2*, DVM; Roberta S. Wallace2, DVM
1School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison WI, USA; 2Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, WI, USA


On 9 December 2012, a juvenile Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) at the Milwaukee County Zoo was found dead after exhibiting an intermittent moist cough, partial loss of appetite, and lethargy for two days. Post-mortem examination and histologic analysis revealed that the orangutan died from an unknown disseminated parasitic infection. Through deep sequencing of DNA from infected tissues and gene-specific PCR and sequencing, it was discovered that the orangutan was infected with the larval (metacestode) form of a divergent species within the newly proposed tapeworm genus Versteria (Cestoda: Taeniidae).1 This study investigates the source of transmission of the cestodes responsible for the case. We performed DNA sequencing of mitochondrial genes from cestodes recovered in Wisconsin where the animal died and in Colorado where the animal was born. Preliminary results indicate that the animal was most likely infected in Colorado and that the source of infection was wild carnivores of the family Mustelidae, subfamily Mustelinae (e.g., weasels, mink and relatives). Our results demonstrate that movement of zoo animals can obscure the location of origin of diseases contracted from local wildlife.

Literature Cited

1.  Goldberg TL, Gendron-Fitzpatrick A, Deering KM, Wallace RS, Clyde VL, Lauck M, Rosen GE, Bennett AJ, Greiner EC, O’Connor DH. Fatal metacestode in a Bomean orangutan caused by an unknown Versteria species. Emerg Infect Dis. 2014;20(1):109–113.


Speaker Information
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Victoria L. Clyde, DVM
Milwaukee County Zoo
Milwaukee, WI, USA