Abstract

The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) is the largest mustelid in North Carolina, US, and was once extirpated from the central and western portions of the state. Over time and after a successful reintroduction project, otters are now abundant and occur throughout North Carolina. However, there is a concern that diseases may have an impact on the otter population, as well as on other aquatic mammals, either through exposure to emerging diseases, contact with domestic animals such as domestic cats (Felis catus), or less robust condition of individuals through declines in water quality. We tested brain and kidney tissue from harvested otters for the pathogens that cause leptospirosis, parvovirus, and toxoplasmosis. Leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis are priority zoonoses and are maintained by domestic and wild mammals. Although parvovirus is not zoonotic, it does affect pets, causing mild to fatal symptoms. Across the 2014–15 and 2015–16 trapping seasons, we tested 220 otters (76 females, 144 males) using real-time PCR for Leptospira interrogans, parvovirus, and Toxoplasma gondii. Of the otters tested, 1% (3/220) were positive for L. interrogans, 19% (41/220) were positive for parvovirus, and 24% (53/220) were positive for T. gondii. Although the pathogens for parvovirus and toxoplasmosis are relatively common in North Carolina otters, the otter harvest has remained steady and the population appears to be abundant and self-sustaining. Therefore, parvovirus and toxoplasmosis do not currently appear to be negatively impacting the population. However, subsequent research should examine transmission parameters between domestic and wild species and the sublethal effects of infection.

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