Species-specific differences in Toxoplasma gondii, Neospora caninum and Besnoitia besnoiti seroprevalence in Namibian wildlife
Background Knowledge about parasitic infections is crucial information for animal health, particularly of free-ranging species that might come into contact with livestock and humans. Methods We investigated the seroprevalence of three tissue-cyst-forming apicomplexan parasites (Toxoplasma gondii, Neospora caninum and Besnoitia besnoiti) in 506 individuals of 12 wildlife species in Namibia using in-house enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (indirect ELISAs applying purified antigens) for screening and immunoblots as confirmatory tests. We included six species of the suborder Feliformia, four species of the suborder Caniformia and two species of the suborder Ruminantia. For the two species for which we had most samples and life-history information, i.e. cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus, n = 250) and leopards (Panthera pardus, n = 58), we investigated T. gondii seroprevalence in relation to age class, sex, sociality (solitary, mother-offspring group, independent sibling group, coalition group) and site (natural habitat vs farmland). Results All but one carnivore species (bat-eared fox Otocyon megalotis, n = 4) were seropositive to T. gondii, with a seroprevalence ranging from 52.4% (131/250) in cheetahs to 93.2% (55/59) in African lions (Panthera leo). We also detected antibodies to T. gondii in 10.0% (2/20) of blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus). Adult cheetahs and leopards were more likely to be seropositive to T. gondii than subadult conspecifics, whereas seroprevalence did not vary with sex, sociality and site. Furthermore, we measured antibodies to N. caninum in 15.4% (2/13) of brown hyenas (Hyaena brunnea) and 2.6% (1/39) of black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas). Antibodies to B. besnoiti were detected in 3.4% (2/59) of African lions and 20.0% (4/20) of blue wildebeest. Conclusions Our results demonstrate that Namibian wildlife species were exposed to apicomplexan parasites at different prevalences, depending on parasite and host species. In addition to serological work, molecular work is also needed to better understand the sylvatic cycle and the clear role of wildlife in the epidemiology of these parasites in southern Africa.