Three Novel Haplotypes ofTheileria bicornisin Black and White Rhinoceros in Kenya

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Piroplasms, especially those in the genera Babesia and Theileria, have been found to naturally infect rhinoceros. Due to natural or human-induced stress factors such as capture and translocations, animals often develop fatal clinical piroplasmosis, which causes death if not treated. This study examines the genetic diversity and occurrence of novel Theileria species infecting both black and white rhinoceros in Kenya. Samples collected opportunistically during routine translocations and clinical interventions from 15 rhinoceros were analysed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using a nested amplification of the small subunit ribosomal RNA (18S rRNA) gene fragments of Babesia and Theileria. Our study revealed for the first time in Kenya the presence of Theileria bicornis in white (Ceratotherium simum simum) and black (Diceros bicornis michaeli) rhinoceros and the existence of three new haplotypes: haplotypes H1 and H3 were present in white rhinoceros, while H2 was present in black rhinoceros. No specific haplotype was correlated to any specific geographical location. The Bayesian inference 50% consensus phylogram recovered the three haplotypes monophyleticly, and Theileria bicornis had very high support (BPP: 0.98). Furthermore, the genetic p-uncorrected distances and substitutions between T. bicornis and the three haplotypes were the same in all three haplotypes, indicating a very close genetic affinity. This is the first report of the occurrence of Theileria species in white and black rhinoceros from Kenya. The three new haplotypes reported here for the first time have important ecological and conservational implications, especially for population management and translocation programs and as a means of avoiding the transport of infected animals into non-affected areas.

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