A sudden bout of avian malaria has wiped out the entire collection, with many old friends lost

All the penguins at Exmoor Zoo have died following a devastating outbreak of avian malaria.

The zoo near Bratton Fleming reported today (Monday) all 10 of the birds in its collection had over nine days following the sudden onset of the disease.

There have been penguins at Exmoor Zoo since 1982 and some of the birds that died were descended from the original inhabitants.

Danny Reynolds at the attraction said despite the best efforts of the veterinarian and the staff - some of whom have hand reared individual penguins from the day they hatched - the outbreak could not be halted.

Now the zoo is seriously considering whether to stock penguins again, for fear the disease could return. Danny said: "Perhaps this is the time to say goodbye to some of the individuals we have looked after, some for 23 years or more - Buster, Newquay, Ludo, Percy, Lemmy, Truddle, Owlie, Blossom, Friendly and Arthur.

"They are being keenly missed especially by those keepers who have given significant years to their care over time."

Avian malaria can be carried by migrating wild birds and although is not infectious to humans or wild birds, penguins have never had to build an immunity to it as they live near the sea where the insects that carry the disease do not occur.

Danny said the malaria pathogen cannot be easily identified in the blood of the penguins and dies very quickly so it cannot be seen with blood samples.

"Unfortunately, all drugs given from pathological reports had no effect and it is now known that once the malaria is contracted even the anti-malarial drugs cannot help the infected bird but the drugs can stop other penguins from contracting the disease," he said.

"The problem for us was that our penguins were in summer moult, with skin exposed and typically do not feed well or regularly during this natural period of feather replacement which hid the symptoms."