Entire species’ of animals could be wiped out because of a little parasite which reproduces in the guts of cats. Yes, we’re speaking of the Toxoplasma Gondii or T-Gondii. It’s the same parasite described in the pages of the #1 best-seller, MADNESS as the cause of most of the world’s animals going crazy with violence. Now, in real-life, it’s killing off a measurable number of Hawaiian monk seals. Experts are very worried whole species may follow.
As reported in a must-read article from National Geographic, there are only 1300 Hawaiian monk seals left on Earth and toxo infections have become the leading disease-related cause of death for the species. Once a monk seal is infected, the T-Gondii parasite can weaken the immune system and cause vital organ failure. But they’re not just the only marine species in peril.
Scientists have recently identified the parasite as showing up in a myriad of marine wildlife. For instance it’s estimated that 50% of the male California sea otters and 77% of river otters are infected.
Remember, as many as half of all humans are infected with T-Gondii.
So how does a parasite that reproduces in the guts of cat make its way to sea mammals? A video we posted (What is toxoplasmosis and why should you care?) does a great job of describing the life-cycle of this parasite. But here’s a summary: when infected cats defecate, the parasitic’s oocysts (think eggs) are released as well (potentially billions of these over a cat’s lifetime). The oocysts are washed by rain into streams, which flows into the seas. Throughout this cycle, the oocysts are consumed by wildlife (on land, in the air, and in the water), which are then consumed by larger predators. Once inside an animal, the parasites force their way into the cells of the animal and multiply until the cells burst. Then they move onto the mammal’s muscle tissue, liver, brain, etc.
Even if you could somehow get rid of all the cats in the world, the oocysts would still be everywhere, and they’d be around for a long time. Oocysts are nearly impossible to kill. “You can store them in 10% bleach for years, take them out, wash them off, and the parasites still develop,” says Patricia Conrad a professor of parasitology of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis (Per National Geographic).
The Hawaiian islands have a particularly bad problem because of their enormous feral cat population, estimated at over 350,000 on Oahu alone.
It’s just one more threat that T-Gondii poses to the world.