Do not feed the wildlife: associations between garbage use, aggression, and disease in banded mongooses (Mungos Mungo)
Flint, Bonnie Fairbanks
Hawley, Dana M.
Alexander, Kathleen A.
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Urbanization and other human modifications of the landscape may indirectly affect disease dynamics by altering host behavior in ways that influence pathogen transmission. Few opportunities arise to investigate behaviorally mediated effects of human habitat modification in natural host–pathogen systems, but we provide a potential example of this phenomenon in banded mongooses (Mungos mungo), a social mammal. Our banded mongoose study population in Botswana is endemically infected with a novel Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex pathogen, M. mungi, that primarily invades the mongoose host through the nasal planum and breaks in the skin. In this system, several study troops have access to human garbage sites and other modified landscapes for foraging. Banded mongooses in our study site (N = 4 troops, ~130 individuals) had significantly higher within-troop aggression levels when foraging in garbage compared to other foraging habitats. Second, monthly rates of aggression were a significant predictor of monthly number of injuries in troops. Finally, injured individuals had a 75% incidence of clinical tuberculosis (TB) compared to a 0% incidence in visibly uninjured mongooses during the study period. Our data suggest that mongoose troops that forage in garbage may be at greater risk of acquiring TB by incurring injuries that may allow for pathogen invasion. Our study suggests the need to consider the indirect effects of garbage on behavior and wildlife health when developing waste management approaches in human-modified areas.