Six African penguins have died at a northwest Indiana zoo after falling ill with avian malaria, zoo officials said.
The Columbian Park Zoo announced Tuesday that the penguins died despite around-the-clock care that included anti-malarial medications intended to halt their infections.
Zoo director Neil Dale said in a news release that the Lafayette zoo’s three remaining African penguins were in critical condition after also contracting the illness, the Journal & Courier reported.
Avian malaria is a parasitic disease caused by a “plasmodium” that's transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitos, the zoo said. This disease only affects birds and is not transmissible to humans or other zoo animals.
Dale said the first African penguin fell ill on Oct. 24 and despite the zoo veterinary team's efforts it died four days later. Five other penguins later died.
The zoo's Penguin Cove exhibit opened at the zoo in July after being pushed back several times due to the COIVD-19 pandemic.
Dale said the zoo is working with the exhibit’s design team and continuing to consult experts for preventative measures that would help ward off exposures to the illness.
“We know that the community will share in our grief during this incredibly sad time," he said. “The entire zoo staff has been emotionally invested in this penguin colony and has felt the loss of each bird deeply."
Lafayette is located about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Indianapolis.