LAFAYETTE — Indiana's second oldest zoo is mourning the loss of six African penguins who died from suspected avian malaria.
The Columbian Park Zoo says the disease has mortality rates as high as 50-90%. Avian malaria affects only birds and is not transmissible bird-to-bird or to humans or other zoo animals. It is transmitted through mosquito bites.
Penguin Flash started showing symptoms of illness on October 24 and was found dead on October 28. Since Flash’s death, the remaining eight penguins began showing symptoms as well and five more penguins - Raspberry, Zing, Chartreuse, Fozzie and Zip have died.
The remaining three penguins, Shazam, Sagely and Donner, are in critical condition, according to the zoo.
The Penguin Cove exhibit opened to the public on July 30, 2021. The zoo says it put exposure risk reduction strategies in place prior to their arrival, including a mosquito abatement program and the use of medications.
"Although devastating occurrences in zoos are relatively rare when exposure reduction strategies are employed, it is challenging to eliminate or prevent exposure while exhibiting penguins outdoors in this geographical location," the zoo said in a news release.
While the zoo's animal care team is heartbroken, staff are working to come up with additional protective measures for the exhibit.
The zoo is closed for the winter and is scheduled to reopen in April 2022.