One of the greatest threats to the delicate ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands is invasive species. The unique plant and wildlife that have developed over centuries on the islands did so in extreme isolation from the mainland – making them exceptionally vulnerable to foreign diseases that their immune systems are simply ill-prepared to handle. This month, (June 2008) we received news from the Galapagos National Park that scientists from the park and Charles Darwin Foundation detected the presence of Plasmodium – a blood-borne that can cause avian malaria, but is not contagious to humans – in Galapagos penguins. There are various forms of Plasmodium, some which can cause serious problems to birds, mammals and reptiles, and other forms that are less harmful depending on the health of the individual animal.
Scientists from the Galapagos National Park's Fabricio Valverde Laboratory, the Charles Darwin Foundation, University of Missouri, St. Louis Zoo, led by Dr. Patricia Parker, detected the presence of Plasmodium en various Galapagos penguins while researching illnesses affecting avian species of Galapagos.
Plasmodium – a blood-borne that can cause avian malaria – affects birds, mammals and reptiles. There are various forms of Plasmodium. Some can cause serious problems on a global scale but others are less harmful depending on the health of the individual animal affected.
It is not known which type of Plasmodium is present in the penguins tested because affected it is necessary to do a larger sampling. For this reason a follow-up research expedition is planned to test a greater number of individuals and to identify the parasite, to determine the mosquito responsible for its transmission, and evaluate the presence in other bird species.
Plasmodium that affects birds is not contagious to humans and therefore cannot be transmitted to humans.
All the samples that will be collected on the monitoring trip (about penguins, mosquitoes and other birds) will be analyzed in the Fabricio Valverde Laboratory of the Galapagos National Park, which has the specialized equipment and infrastructure for the research effort.
Each year the Galapagos National Park, with assistance from the Charles Darwin Foundation, does a census of penguins in the archipelago; the results of the last years have indicated stable populations of the species.
Source: Galapagos National Park. Press release July 3rd 2008
To learn more about some of the challenges facing the Galapagos – and more importantly – how you, as a traveler, can help preserve this international natural treasure, click here.
The Galapagos Penguin is endemic to the islands. It is one of the world's smallest penguins, and is the only penguin to breed entirely within the tropics. Galapagos Penguins can be found on the islands of Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago and Bartolome.