Infectious diseases pose a significant threat to global biodiversity and may contribute to extinction. As such, establishing baseline disease prevalence in vulnerable species where disease could affect persistence is important to conservation. We assessed potential disease threats to endangered red wolves (Canis rufus) by evaluating regional (southeastern United States) disease occurrences in mammals and parasite prevalence in red wolves and sympatric coyotes (Canis latrans) in North Carolina. Common viral pathogens in the southeast region, such as canine distemper and canine parvovirus, and numerous widespread endoparasites could pose a threat to the red wolf population. The most prevalent parasites in red wolves and sympatric coyotes were heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis), hookworm (Ancylostoma caninum), and Ehrlichia spp.; several red wolves and coyotes were also positive for bacteria causing Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). Coyotes had a more species-rich parasite community than red wolves, suggesting they could harbor more parasites and act as a disease reservoir. Species identity and sex did not significantly affect parasite loads, but young canids were less likely to have heartworm and more likely to have high levels of endoparasites. Continued disease monitoring is important for red wolf recovery because low levels of genetic variability may compromise the wolves' abilities to combat novel pathogens from closely related species, such as domestic dogs and coyotes.
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Vol. 96 • No. 4