Background: Infectious diseases represent the greatest threats to endangered species, and transmission from humans to wildlife under increased anthropogenic pressure has been always stated as a major risk of habituation. Aims:To evaluate the impact of close contact with humans on the occurrence of potentially zoonotic protists in great apes, one hundred mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) from seven groups habituated either for tourism or for research in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda were screened for the presence of microsporidia, Cryptosporidium spp. and Giardia spp. using molecular diagnostics.
Results:The most frequently detected parasites were Enterocytozoon bieneusi found in 18 samples (including genotype EbpA, D, C, gorilla 2 and five novel genotypes gorilla 4-8) and Encephalitozoon cuniculi with genotype II being more prevalent (10 cases) compared to genotype I (1 case). Cryptosporidium muris (2 cases) and C. meleagridis (2 cases) were documented in great apes for the first time. Cryptosporidium sp. infections were identified only in research groups and occurrence of E. cuniculi in research groups was significantly higher in comparison to tourist groups. No difference in prevalence of E. bieneusi was observed between research and tourist groups.
Conclusion: Although our data showed the presence and diversity of important opportunistic protists in Volcanoes gorillas, the source and the routes of the circulation remain unknown. Repeated individual sampling, broad sampling of other hosts sharing the habitat with gorillas and quantification of studied protists would be necessary to acquire more complex data.
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