More than a month after the death of the Brevard Zoo’s two North American river otters, zoo officials have determined the cause of death, News 6 partner Florida today said.
The two otters — 4-year-old Finley and 6-year-old Gladys — became ill on Aug. 26, improved for a few days, and then worsened on Sept. 4, officials said. They passed on Sept. 5 before extensive testing could be done to determine what was causing the illness.
Following their deaths, numerous tests were conducted to determine the cause of death, examining the otters’ habitat, diet, intestinal contents and tissue.
Tuesday, zoo officials posted to Brevard Zoo’s website that a pathologist had found a “severe infection” of coccidia, a type of parasite, in the otters’ intestines. This parasite damaged the otters’ intestines, allowing another infection — Clostridium bacteria — to spread and produce a toxin, which zoo officials said they believe caused the otters’ death.
The specific species of coccidia found in the otters’ intestines has never been identified before, zoo officials said. Generally, the parasite doesn’t cause “rapid and fatal outcomes,” they said.
The zoo’s veterinary team is working with a parasitologist and molecular lab to study the parasite and share the information with the scientific community.
Zoo officials said the otters received a routine fecal exam looking for parasites five months prior to their deaths, and no evidence of the infection was found. All zoo animals are given a routine fecal exam for parasites every six months.
Tests showed no toxins in the otters’ water or diet, officials said.
Testing for fecal toxins and infectious diseases was done on all other carnivores at the zoo and showed no abnormalities. Officials said they “feel confident” the otters’ infection was an isolated incident.
Officials added that while losing an animal is a “tremendous loss,” they always work to learn more about the animal when a death occurs.
“We were fortunate in this case to receive answers and hope that by learning more about this unknown coccidia species, we can help inform animal care research worldwide,” officials said in the blog post.