Avian Mycobacteriosis in a Rescued Harpy Eagle from Darien Forest, Panama


  • Claudia del Carmén Rengifo-Herrera Asociación Panamericana para la Conservación (APPC), Gamboa, Panama City
  • Julio César Reyes Asociación Panamericana para la Conservación (APPC), Gamboa, Panama City
  • Angie Marie Magaña Asociación Panamericana para la Conservación (APPC), Gamboa, Panama City
  • Fermín Acosta Asociación Panamericana para la Conservación (APPC), Gamboa, Panama City
  • Julia Ponder Asociación Panamericana para la Conservación (APPC), Gamboa, Panama City
  • Amador Goodridge Asociación Panamericana para la Conservación (APPC), Gamboa, Panama City




Background: The Harpy eagle (Harpia harpyia) is the largest raptor in the Neotropical region, distributed in low densities within primary forest habitats from southern Mexico to east-central Brazil, including Central America and Panama. Although locally extinct due to habitat degradation, human poaching and reduction of tropical forests in recent decades, some remnant populations are known to be small and isolated. Thus, information on its ecology, including infectious diseases, is critical for conservation efforts and management of populations of this emblematic species in the wild. Avian Mycobacteriosis (AM) is a chronic disease affecting a wide range of birds and mammals and clinical cases have been sporadically reported, although in harpy eagles, has not been documented. In addition, scant information exists on pathologies affecting raptors, therefore, this report expands the knowledge on infectious diseases affecting wild birds. This study describes the first case of AM in an immature harpy eagle rescued from Darien gap and presents details of the clinical manifestation of the disease and its histological findings.

Case: An immature harpy eagle was presented to a rescue center after being confiscated by Ministry of Environment from a local farm in a remote region of Eastern Panama, in the Darien gap. The raptor had a history of having been kept in captivity for approximately five weeks, cohabiting with backyard poultry and fed corn, raw duck and chicken provided by farm owners. Stagnant water was offered for drinking. The harpy eagle arrived to the facility very lethargic and emaciated. Physical examination revealed damaged plumage, poor body condition and dyspnea. Complete blood count revealed anemia and leukocytosis based on lymphocytosis and eosinophilia. Biochemical profile evidenced an increased level of aspartate aminotransferase (AST), phosphorus and total plasma protein. Most remarkable radiographic findings were splenomegaly, hepatomegaly and increased opacity in kidneys, intestines, and aerial sacs. None of the other diagnostic tests performed were conclusive, like tracheal, esophageal and cloacal cultures for fungal infection and fecal exam. After one week of treatment, it showed a remarkable recovery, but at the end of the second week, declined dramatically, dying in the third week of treatment. Post-mortem examination revealed the presence of diffuse granulomas in multiple organs. Histologic examination with gram and Ziehl Neelsen staining revealed the presence of gram-positive and acid-fast bacteria, compatible with Mycobacterium-like bacilli. PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis of the hsp65, digested with BstEII and HaEIII restriction enzymes confirmed the presence Mycobacterium avium complex in tissues samples.

Discussion: This is the first report of AM in a harpy eagle, presenting an extreme emaciation with dyspnea, abnormalities in spleen, liver and air sacs. Biochemical and hematological parameters revealed alterations consistent with infection and organ malfunctions in liver, but Mycobacteriosis was not suspected initially and it was necessary to support the diagnosis with histopathological studies and DNA amplification for a proper identification of the disease. This allowed us to confirm that ante-mortem clinical diagnosis of Avian Mycobacteriosis can be challenging, especially in birds who usually show non-specific signs of the disease and external lesions are not commonly observed. Further studies are requiring to determine the characteristics and clinical signs of this disease in this and other raptors. Also, to determine the source of infection affecting raptors and other protected species in the Neotropical region, especially for diseases with relevance in the conservation of birds and animal health control.


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How to Cite

Rengifo-Herrera, C. del C., Reyes, J. C., Magaña, A. M., Acosta, F., Ponder, J., & Goodridge, A. (2019). Avian Mycobacteriosis in a Rescued Harpy Eagle from Darien Forest, Panama. Acta Scientiae Veterinariae, 47. https://doi.org/10.22456/1679-9216.96502