Science News

Skin disease caused by parasite spreads among African giraffes

A skin disease is spreading among African giraffes and causing concern. Identified for the first time in African giraffes in the early 1990s, the disease appears to have spread more widely in recent years. According to experts, it could be caused by several pathogens and could be represented by more skin diseases.

The pathology sees the formation of patches of dead tissue and sores transuding blood or pus on the skin of the animals and for the moment does not seem to be fatal. However, environmentalists strongly fear for the health of animals and above all for their reproduction considering that even giraffes could soon fall into the category of endangered animals like other endemic animals of the African savannah.

An infectious disease is the last thing we should wish for giraffes, animals in decline due to habitat loss but also due to poaching, as reported by Chris Whittier, a researcher at Tufts University, United States: “We cannot ignore threats secondary, like infectious diseases, because every little thing could become an event at the level of extinction when there are not many individuals of certain species left.”

By analyzing various skin samples taken from giraffes affected by this infectious disease in the Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, researchers have discovered the larval form of a very small parasitic worm, barely visible to the naked eye, inside the sick tissue. The parasite is still a subject of study (research should appear soon in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases) but researchers think it may belong to the genus Stephanofilaria.

To this genus belong parasites that commonly spread among domestic cattle through flies causing symptoms similar to those seen in giraffes as sores and various skin problems. In the animals of the African savannah, however, this parasite had always been considered quite rare and some cases had been found, in addition to giraffes, in hippos, rhinos or antelopes.

Further research will be carried out and the hope is to be able to stop the spread of this parasite among giraffes before it spreads in too many specimens of all East Africa.