Differences in helminth infections between captive and wild spur-thighed tortoises Testudo graeca in southern Spain: a potential risk of reintroductions of this species.Vet Parasitol. 2012 Jul 06; 187(3-4):491-7.VP
Although the spur-thighed tortoise, Testudo graeca, is one of the most widely distributed species of tortoises, its natural populations are threatened through its whole range. Particularly at south-eastern Spain, the species is mainly threatened by habitat destruction and over-collection, given that this chelonian has been traditionally considered an appreciate pet. As south-eastern Spanish wildlife recovery centers shelter hundreds of captive animals mainly coming from illegal trade or captive-bred, there is a strong debate about what to do with these animals: maintaining them in captivity all along their lives or reintroducing them to wildlife. It is well known that the reintroduction of captive animals supposes a risk for the wild population due to the uncertainty of their genetic origin and to the possible spread of infectious diseases. However, despite the increasing evidence that infectious agents are a potential health hazard for wildlife, little is known about the risk that introduced parasites could suppose for the wild populations of spur-thighed tortoise. The present study investigates for the first time the presence of helminth eggs and worms in faeces from 107 wild and captive individuals collected from mid-March to mid-June 2010, and relates the findings to different environmental and host variables. Sixteen oxyurid species and the ascarid Angusticaecum holopterum were identified. This last nematode and the oxyurid species Tachygonetria palearticus and T. seurati had not been reported in Spanish wild T. graeca previously. The prevalence of oxyurid eggs and worms were 94% and 70%, respectively; while, ascarid eggs and worms were found in 26% and 5% of tortoises, respectively. Ascarid infections affected mostly captive animals and were associated to caparace deformities and symptoms of upper respiratory tract disease (p<0.05). Oxyurid infections were not associated to negative health traits and prevalence increased with age. In free-living tortoises, the distribution of pharingodonid genera also varied according to habitat; moreover, T. longicollis, T. pusilla, T. conica, T. robusta and Mehdiella stylosa where significantly more frequent in wild compared to captive tortoises (p<0.05). Study results highlight important differences in the nematode fauna of captive and free-living tortoises and questions one more time if the reintroductions of captive animals suppose a risk for the wild population since the former ones can harbor and distribute among free populations pathogens like ascarid nematodes.