Disease and Mortality in Australian Marsupials Held at London Zoo, 1872-1972
Paul J. Canfield1, B.V.Sc, Ph.D., and Andrew A. Cunningham2, M.R.C.V.S.
Department of Veterinary Pathology, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia1
2Veterinary Science Research Group, Institute of Zoology, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY, U.K.
Although marsupials have been kept in the collection at the London Zoo for over a century, many of the findings on causes of disease and death have not been published. With the recent increase in research into the diseases of wild marsupials, such a large zoo data base can provide important information with implications for both captive and free-living populations. This report analyzes mortality in Australasian marsupials held at the London Zoo between 1872 and 1972. Of the 1,217 records analyzed, 763 were of macropods, 269 of possums and gliders, 113 of dasyurids, 38 of wombats, 19 of bandicoots and bilbies, nine of thylacines (Thylacinus cynocephalus), and six of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus). Approximately 60% of the deaths occurred between 1892 and 1931. During this period, many animals died shortly after arrival due to poor conditions of transportation. Increased mortality also often followed periods of cold weather, when marsupials died from a variety of diseases, especially pneumonia. Cellulitis and osteomyelitis of the head and neck ("necrobacillosis" or "lumpy jaw") was the main disease problem in 137 macropods. Respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases were partly caused by the same organisms associated with lumpy jaw. In most groups of marsupials, pneumonia, gastroenteritis and gastric ulceration were common findings. Death due to trauma occurred in 51 macropods, 16 possums and gliders, and 10 dasyurids. Nineteen macropods had tuberculosis, and 11 had gastric neoplasia. Ten macropods and seven wombats had intestinal obstructions. Twelve of the possums and gliders had liver disease. Seven dasyurids had neoplasia. Five of the nine thylacines had peritonitis secondary to ulcerative gastro enteritis. Many of these disease conditions have been well documented in marsupials held at other zoos and in wildlife parks. This study suggests that the range of diseases detected in captive marsupials at the London Zoo has not changed greatly during the time records on causes of death have been kept, but the prevalence of these diseases has been influenced by changing management.