Auburn, Ala. (EETV) – A year-long study conducted in Kauai, Hawaii raised environmental and wildlife health concerns around the world.
Kayleigh Chalkowski, PhD student at the Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, led a research study with Chris Lepczyk, Professor at the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, on the spread and influence of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii or T. gondii. in Hawaii. This parasite, spread by wild cats, can infect other animals and even cause neurological symptoms in humans. Chalkowski’s study in Kauai, Hawaii found that 40% of the chickens were infected with this parasite and that the same chickens inhabited places that were in direct contact with the public.
“Our results from positive chickens in community centers and public beach parks suggest a risk to public health, and our results from positive chickens in wildlife sanctuaries and coastal areas suggest a risk of exposure to endangered birds and marine mammals,” says Chalkowski. Her field experience in Hawaii led Chalkowski to believe that a change in health policy would be necessary not just in Hawaii but around the world.
“We hope this study will not only guide containment efforts, but also raise awareness of how widespread and widespread this parasite is in public land use areas.”
Chalkowski and her team hope this study will be a stepping stone to gaining more support for animal control measures such as banning wildcat feeding and increasing wildcat population trapping. She also says stricter laws on spaying, neutering, and abandoning cats should be put in place to curb the spread of this parasite.
T. gondii can be spread anywhere cats are, and this study in Hawaii is just the beginning of research into how it can affect the rest of the world.
“It’s both fascinating and terrifying considering how little we know about the health effects of this parasite on many species,” said Chalkowski. “This parasite is a problem worldwide, there are a lot that we are new to, and efforts to control or understand this parasite in one area can be very helpful elsewhere.”