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Sharing schistosomes: the elephant schistosome Bivitellobilharzia nairi also infects the greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) in Chitwan National Park, Nepal

  • R. Devkota (a1), S.V. Brant (a1) (a2), A. Thapa (a3) and E.S. Loker (a1) (a2)

Because the digenetic trematode fauna of Nepal is poorly known, we began to search for schistosomes in and around Chitwan National Park (CNP) of southern Nepal. Both domestic and wild Indian elephants (Elephus maximus) are present, and we found one of two dung samples from wild elephants and 1 of 22 (4.5%) dung samples from domestic elephants to be positive for schistosome eggs. The morphology of the eggs and both cox1 and 28S sequences derived from the eggs/miracidia were consistent with Bivitellobilharzia nairi, reported here for the first time from Nepal. Also, 7 of 14 faecal samples from the Asian or greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) contained viable eggs indistinguishable from those of B. nairi. This identification was confirmed by comparison with both cox1 and 28S sequences from B. nairi eggs/miracidia derived from Nepalese and Sri Lankan elephants. This represents the first sequence-verified identification of a schistosome from any species of rhinoceros, and the first verified occurrence of a representative of Bivitellobilharzia (a genus of ‘elephant schistosomes’) in mammals other than elephants. Our work suggests that elephants and rhinos share B. nairi in CNP, even though these two members of the ‘charismatic megafauna’ belong to unrelated mammalian families. Their shared life style of extensive contact with freshwater habitats likely plays a role, although the snail intermediate host and mode of definitive host infection for B. nairi have yet to be documented. This report also supports Bivitellobilharzia as a monophyletic group and its status as a distinct genus within Schistosomatidae.

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Journal of Helminthology
  • ISSN: 0022-149X
  • EISSN: 1475-2697
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