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Keywords:

  • Cryptosporidium;
  • disturbance ecology;
  • Giardia;
  • neglected pathogens;
  • primate;
  • Zoonoses

Abstract

Exponential expansion of human populations and human activities within primate habitats has resulted in high potential for pathogen exchange creating challenges for biodiversity conservation and global health. Under such conditions, resilient habitat generalists such as black and gold howler monkeys (Alouatta caraya) may act as effective sentinels to overall ecosystem health and alert us to impending epidemics in the human population. To better understand this potential, we examined noninvasively collected fecal samples from black and gold howler monkeys from remote, rural, and village populations in Northern Argentina. We examined all samples (n=90) for the zoonotic protozoa Cryptosporidium sp. and Giardia sp. via immunofluorescent antibody (IFA) detection. All samples were negative for Cryptosporidium sp. The prevalence of Giardia sp. was significantly higher at the rural site (67%) compared with the remote forest (57%) and village (40%) sites. A lack of Cryptosporidium sp. in all samples examined suggests that this pathogen is not a natural component of the howler parasite communities at these sites and that current land-use patterns and livestock contact are not exposing Argentine howler monkeys to this pathogen. High prevalence of Giardia sp. at all sites suggests that howler monkeys may serve as a viable reservoir for Giardia. Significantly higher prevalence of Giardia sp. at the rural site, where primate–livestock contact is highest, suggests the presence of multiple Giardia clades or increased exposure to Giardia through repeated zoonotic transmission among nonhuman primates, livestock, and/or people. These results highlight the need for future research into the epidemiology, cross-species transmission ecology, and clinical consequences of Giardia and other infectious agents not only in humans and livestock, but also in the wild animals that share their environments. Am. J. Primatol. 73:75–83, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.