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Health screening of free-ranging European brown hares (Lepus europaeus) on the German North-Sea island Pellworm

Posautz, Annika, Loncaric, Igor, Lundin, Marie, Hoffmann, Daniel, Lavazza, Antonio, Kelemen, Zsofia, Beiglböck, Christoph, Walzer, Christian, Kübber-Heiss, Anna
Acta veterinaria scandinavica 2015 v.57 no.1 pp. 43
Aeromonas, Escherichia coli, Lepus, Treponema, Trichostrongylus, bacteria, coccidiosis, enteritis, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, game animals, habitats, hares, histopathology, intestinal microorganisms, islands, parasites, parasitology, pathogens, screening, seroprevalence, small intestine, Germany, North Sea
BACKGROUND: A sudden decline of the European brown hare (Lepus europaeus) population in one of the best hunting districts for small game species in northern Germany, the German North-Sea island Pellworm, in the years 2007/08 following marked habitat changes led to the implementation of a thorough health assessment program of the population. 110 animals were collected during the normal hunting season in the years 2010 and 2011. A post-mortem examination and histopathological investigation was performed on all animals. Additionally, routine bacteriology of the small intestine and parasitology were carried out. Sera of hares were tested for European Brown Hare Syndrome (EBHS) by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay, and for Treponema sp. by indirect immunofluorescent test. Additional testing was performed when deemed necessary. RESULTS: The most striking result was a shift in the intestinal bacterial flora towards Gram-negative Enterobacteriaceae with a predominance of either Escherichia coli, or Aeromonas sp., or a high-grade double-infection with these two pathogens with subsequent catarrhal enteritis. Additionally, a marked coccidiosis, and varying infestations with the nematode Trichostrongylus retortaeformis were found. The sero-prevalence for EBHS was 78.1%, and for Treponema 43.9%. CONCLUSIONS: The shift and decrease in diversity of the intestinal flora was the main and most consistent result found. In the authors’ opinion the change of the habitat combined with other stressors increased the animals’ sensitivity to ubiquitous bacterial species and parasites which usually would not have such fatal effects.