The white-winged guan is one of Peru's most critically endangered birds. Without knowledge of basic hematology and disease parameters in the guan, scientists have been unable to make sound management decisions about health-related issues in the captive population or make recommendations to biologists regarding the risks associated with reintroduction of this species. By addressing these gaps in knowledge, this study will help scientist detect the most important infectious disease in the population or those agents that may be playing a sub-clinical role by reducing overall fitness and reproductive health, thus providing valuable information for reintroduction efforts.
Project Update: May 2005
The total number of guans studied was 86, representing 95.55% of the captive population. Some of the other cracids and peacocks (Phasianidae) kept in the breeding center were also sampled, as well as domestic fowl (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese) from the Las Pampas community adjacent to the breeding center. The birds from this last group belong to breeding center workers or families near the property. Every family and worker was interviewed with the aim of assessing if diseases studied in guans were present in the other birds and in what proportion.
There were 64 adult guans, 17 juveniles and 5 chicks. The major cause of death in this species is stress, for which contingency drugs were available. The birds were manually captured and fortunately, emergency procedures and drugs were not needed in any event. No guan died because of the manipulations. Handling the guans helped reveal more about their physiology and anatomy, as well as other non-infectious problems they undergo.
Storage of biological samples was limited in this study due to the high temperatures of the dry forest and lack of energy in the breeding center. Dr. Albert Lewandowski from the Veterinary Hospital at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo donated materials such as small green, purple and yellow-top sampling tubes, sterile disposable swabs, and necropsy forceps scissors. Without his generosity, the load of work would have been higher, and a larger number of samples would have spoiled.
All the goals and objectives of this project were accomplished. The normal hematological and basic biochemical values of the guan have been determined as distributed in three ages: chicks, juveniles and adults. A larger set of pathogens as well as important infectious diseases have been detected in the captive population, some of which are agents that play a subclinical role by reducing fitness and reproductive health. Information has thus been provided about basic health parameters and disease susceptibility which will help guide reintroduction efforts.
The most important finding was that there are diseases present in the guan populations of the breeding center. This is a very hardy species, yet guans can be affected by pathogens. Infected quans may appear healthy, so only through appropriate tests can health be truly established. Other infectious and non-infectious problems have been tracked down and related to the disease study, revealing a strong link between them. This is the first step towards a better understanding of the role of pathogens in guan health. Continuation of this study will enable the accumulation of enough data to know how and to what extent they are affected.
All of these finding influence research and conservation priorities. The disease study should continue and moreover, should be integrated with the normal work routine. A readjustment of the breeding center biosecurity should start as a preventative measure, and environmental education should be undertaken with the people of the surrounding area.