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Mycoplasma agassizii in Morafka's desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) in Mexico

December 1, 2014

We conducted health evaluations of 69 wild and 22 captive Morafka's desert tortoises (Gopherus morafkai) in Mexico between 2005 and 2008. The wild tortoises were from 11 sites in the states of Sonora and Sinaloa, and the captive tortoises were from the state-managed Centro Ecológico de Sonora Zoo in Hermosillo and a private residence in the town of Alamos. We tested 88 tortoises for mycoplasmal upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays for specific antibody and by culture and PCR for detection of Mycoplasma agassizii and Mycoplasma testudineum. Fifteen of 22 captive tortoises had one or more positive diagnostic test results for M. agassizii whereas no wild tortoises had positive tests. Tortoises with positive tests also had significantly more moderate and severe clinical signs of mycoplasmosis on beaks and nares compared to tortoises with negative tests. Captive tortoises also exhibited significantly more clinical signs of illness than did wild tortoises, including lethargy and moderate to severe ocular signs. The severity of trauma and diseases of the shell and integument did not differ significantly among tortoises by site; however, clinical signs of moderate to severe trauma and disease were more prevalent in older tortoises. Similar to research findings for other species in the genus Gopherusin the US, we found that URTD is an important disease in captive tortoises. If they escape or are released by intention or accident to the wild, captive tortoises are likely to pose risks to healthy, naïve wild populations.

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