New York: While looking for malaria that might infect birds in a US zoo, researchers have accidentally discovered for the first time a malaria parasite that infects the white-tailed deer.
The malaria parasite Plasmodium odocoilei is the first of its kind known to live in a deer species and the only native malaria parasite found in any mammal in North or South America, the study said.
Though white-tailed deer diseases have been heavily studied--scientist hadn't noticed that many have malaria parasites.
The researchers have estimated that the parasite infects up to 25 percent of white-tailed deer along the US East Coast.
Their results were published in the journal Science Advances.
"You never know what you are going to find when you are out in nature - and you look," said Ellen Martinsen from University of Vermont in the US.
"It's a parasite that has been hidden in the most iconic game animal in the United States. I just stumbled across it," Martinsen noted.
The researchers noted that they anticipate little danger to people from this newly discovered deer malaria, it does underline the fact that many human health concerns are connected to wider ecological systems - and that understanding the biology of other species is a foundation to both conservation and public health management.
Malaria is a major problem for people in many parts of the world--and for many species of wildlife too.
"Malaria is a top parasitic disease in humans and wildlife," Martinsen said.
"It is important that we gain a better understanding of its diversity and distribution not just across humans but across other species too," Martinsen noted.