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A preliminary assessment of bacteria in “ranched” ball pythons (Python regius), Togo, West Africa

D'Cruze, Neil and Bates, Jodie and Assou, Délagnon and Ronfot, Delphine and Coulthard, Emma and Segniagbeto, Gabriel Hoinsoudé and Auliya, Mark and Megson, David and Rowntree, Jennifer (2020) A preliminary assessment of bacteria in “ranched” ball pythons (Python regius), Togo, West Africa. Nature Conservation, 39. pp. 73-86. ISSN 1314-6947

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Abstract

Captive reptiles are routinely identified as reservoirs of pathogenic bacteria and reports of reptile-associated infections relating to some species are well documented (e.g., salmonellosis). Currently, relatively little is known about the epidemiology and bacteria of ball pythons. We carried out a survey of ball python farms in Togo, West Africa to assess the presence of any potentially pathogenic bacterial taxa that have been identified in recent scientific literature relating to this species. The presence of bacteria belonging to the genera Acinetobacter, Bacteroides, Citrobacter, Enterobacter, Lysobacter, Proteus, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus, and Tsukamurella in oral and cloacal samples taken from five individual ball pythons is of potential concern for horizontal transmission given that pathogenic species belonging to these genera have been previously documented. The presence of bacteria belonging to the genera Clostridium, Escherichia, Moraxella, and Stenotrophomonas in the oral and rectal samples taken from five mice used to feed ball pythons suggests that they represent a potential reservoir of infection for wild caught ball pythons and their progeny. Furthermore, possible sources of environmental contamination include other captive amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals, as well as free ranging birds and small mammals. Additional surveillance of ball pythons in the wild and in captivity at python farms in West Africa will shed light on whether or not this type of commercial activity is increasing pathogen exposure and lowering barriers to transmission. Meanwhile, as a precautionary measure, it is recommended that python farms should immediately establish biosecurity and disease surveillance practices to minimize potential horizontal and vertical bacterial transfer.

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