Endangered Markhor Catch Pneumonia

January 6, 2012

A pneumonia outbreak reduces numbers of a wild population of endangered wild goats in Tajikistan by as much as 20 percent. Fewer than 2,500 markhor are left in the wild.

Life isn’t easy if you’re a markhor goat. One day you’re dodging poachers, the next, snow leopards, and after that, landslides on your native turf in Central Asia’s rugged mountains. Now comes a new threat: pneumonia. WCS and partners have detected the respiratory infection for the first time in a population of these endangered wild goats in Tajikistan.

Markhor are known for their impressive corkscrew horns that can reach nearly five feet in length, and for their spectacular climbing abilities as they scale cliffs, and even trees, to feed.

The pneumonia outbreak, which occurred in September and October of 2010, is believed to have killed at least 65 markhors—as much as 20 percent of the population remaining in the country. Fewer than 2,500 markhor exist across their entire range.

The researchers behind the study believe that the wild goats may have contracted the disease from their cousins, domestic goats. Though local communities that share markhor habitat have few livelihood alternatives to raising goats, the cohabitation increases the risk that infectious agents will pass from livestock to wildlife. The study’s authors also suggest that a newly recorded pathogen in markhor may be responsible for the pneumonia outbreak. They report that the case emphasizes the need for continuous disease surveillance in domestic animals that have contact with valuable wildlife resources.

“So far, no new outbreaks have been reported since 2010,” said WCS’s Dr. Stéphane Ostrowski, lead author on the study, which appeared in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. “Recent investigations in the area of the outbreak have revealed that domestic goats test positive for a Mycoplasma bacteria that may cause pneumonia in both domestic and wild goats. The Nature Protection Team, a Tajik nongovernmental organization, is working with communities to minimize contacts between domestic animals and markhor.”

WCS has been leading efforts to save the remarkable markhor across its range. In the mountains of northern Pakistan, WCS now works with over 20 communities to stop poaching and train rangers to monitor the wild goats and enforce local hunting bans. In Afghanistan, WCS recently conducted wildlife surveys along the border of Tajikistan and discovered previously unrecorded populations of markhor in the Badakhshan Province. With funding from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), WCS is also bringing together health officials in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to assess disease threats to markhor and other wildlife in the region.

Learn more in the press release >>
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