Wildlife Health Australia - Quarterly Update - March 2016

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In this issue

- Universities help with wildlife health
- Welcome Andrea Reiss
- Animal Health Surveillance Quarterly and Bat Stats
- The Canadian perspective with Craig Stephen
- Public service media for Ian Roth
- Member profile - Lucy Woolford

Universities help with wildlife research

Seven Australian universities are now boosting Australia’s capture of wildlife health data through a new, one-year pilot project, led by Wildlife Health Australia.

In January, participating universities began inputting data into WHA’s electronic Wildlife Health Information System (eWHIS).

WHA CEO Rupert Woods explained universities undertake hundreds of wildlife disease investigations annually, generated as part of their usual operations. He said the number of records going into eWHIS could increase by around 50 per cent or more as a result of the project.

Data is currently contributed to eWHIS by government agencies and departments along with zoo wildlife hospitals, private veterinarians and national programs for detecting Australian bat lyssavirus and avian influenza in wild birds.

WHA’s Sam Gilchrist is coordinating the university based wildlife disease surveillance program. He said the contribution of universities is likely to bring in a wider dataset in terms of different wildlife species, and the geographic areas where they are found.

The universities involved in the pilot project are Charles Sturt University, James Cook University, Murdoch University, the University of Adelaide, the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney.

Donna Spowart from the University of Queensland.

Welcome Andrea Reiss

Reviewing and updating Wildlife Health Australia’s disease fact sheets is the focus for new staff member Andrea Reiss.

Andrea, a veterinarian who started work as a part-time project officer for WHA in January, said all the information sheets were being reformatted into a new, easy to read style. Andrea is also coordinating a review process by experts in each area to ensure the latest information is included.

Hendra virus and Australia bat lyssavirus are two topics which have required major updates, as recent research has expanded our knowledge of these diseases.

Andrea is also in the process of writing some brand new fact sheets, including exotic threats such as Chikungunya virus and Rift Valley Fever and hot topics such as antimicrobial resistance.

The full suite of updated fact sheets will be launched by WHA later in the year.

A long-time member and supporter of WHA, Andrea’s career to date has included stints as a zoo veterinarian at Melbourne Zoo, Taronga Zoo and Perth Zoo, and university-based research into the decline of small mammals in Australia’s north. She has a strong interest in wildlife disease and conservation, and has worked on conservation projects for the northern hairy-nosed wombat, eastern bettong, African wild dog, and African rhino. Andrea is past president of the Wildlife Disease Association Australasian section, and of the Zoo and Wildlife Medicine Chapter of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists.

New Wildlife Health Australia staff member, Andrea Reiss.

Animal Health Surveillance Quarterly and Bat Stats


From July to September 2015, 132 wildlife disease investigation events were reported into Wildlife Health Australia’s electronic Wildlife Health Information System (eWHIS).

WHA’s report, recently published in Animal Health Surveillance Quarterly, provides an overview of wild bird mortality and morbidity event investigations including tests to exclude avian paramyxoviruses and avian influenza, as well as a summary of Australian bat lyssavirus testing. In addition, there are articles on the Bellinger river snapping turtle mortality event, and a report on Eastern grey kangaroo mortalities due to starvation in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Access Volume 20 Issue 3 of Animal Health Surveillance Quarterly here.

The December 2015 issue of Bat Stats is now published on the WHA website, on the Bat Health Focus Group page. (Scroll to the bottom to find the link.)

The Canadian perspective with Craig Stephen


The head of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC), Craig Stephen, meets regularly via skype with Wildlife Health Australia’s Rupert Woods and Tiggy Grillo. Craig said the collaborative approach helps ensure the two organisations make the most of their limited resources in delivering national wildlife health programs.

“There isn’t a text book on how to run a wildlife health program. By sharing information we can learn from each other and all get better,” he said.

A veterinarian with a PhD in epidemiology, Craig has held a long interest in wildlife. As a teenager he took an injured snowy owl to the veterinarian, and was inspired to seek out a career in the field. Craig has worked in private veterinary practice, as an epidemiologist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, and in 1996 he founded the Centre for Coastal Health (CCH).

The CCH has a strong One Health focus, and has been involved in projects relating to wildlife, natural resource development, and international preparedness for emerging infectious diseases through the coordination and contributions of public health, agriculture health and wildlife health.

Craig has headed the CWHC since 2014. In that time Craig has overseen the development of a business case for the organisation, which maps the plans and priorities of six government agencies, and makes explicit the ways in which the CWHC can help.

The result is that for the first time the six federal ministries have met to discuss wildlife health, and there is now a greater recognition of CWHC and the need for sustainable long term funding.

Craig has also sought to strengthen the organisation’s capability for knowledge sharing.

“CHWC has always been very good in terms of sharing knowledge through scientific conferences and papers, but now we are becoming more proactive, to make sure the results of our diagnosis and analysis are getting through to policy and decision makers,” he said.

The organisation produces a quarterly report, the website has been revamped, and Facebook and Twitter are part of the communications mix.

“We want to make sure wildlife health stays on the radar, as part of everyday business,” he said.

Craig said new CWHC projects include one for the Department of Fish and Oceans involving a policy and science review to look at cumulative effects on fish health, which goes beyond a more narrow focus on fish parasites and pathogens. New projects on seal herd health and caribou are also underway.

“I am very glad CWHC and WHA have connected, and I hope there will be more tangible examples of collaboration in the future,” he said.

Craig Stephen of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative. 

Public service medal for Ian Roth

Wildlife Health Australia member Ian Roth was honoured to receive a Public Service Medal, which was announced by the Governor General as part of the Australia Day 2016 awards. The medal was awarded for “outstanding public service to veterinary science, particularly to animal welfare and biosecurity in NSW”. 

The recently retired NSW Chief Veterinary Officer has served on the boards of Wildlife Health Australia, and its predecessor the Australian Wildlife Health Network, and Ian is continuing his role as board member on Taronga Conservation Society Australia.

Ian was very keen to acknowledge that all the work throughout his 40 year career has been done as part of a team involving many officers especially from within NSW Department of Primary Industries but also involving Local Land Services and other organisations.

“This award truly reflects the efforts and achievements of many in the areas of animal health and welfare,” he said.

The notes accompanying the award read in part: “He has a deep understanding of animal biosecurity and his tireless leadership across animal welfare issues has significantly influenced the protection of NSW’s environment and its $12billion primary industries sector. His commitment to service is demonstrated by his involvement in 21 emergency disease outbreaks since 1997…. His successes, both as a leader during times of crisis, and as a manager of sustained campaigns, testify to his strong, flexible management style and his capacity to nurture and motivate high performing teams.”

Ian will receive the award at a presentation in Sydney in April. Congratulations Ian on this well-deserved award.

Wildlife Health Australia member Ian Roth.

Member profile - Lucy Woolford

Lucy Woolford, a veterinarian with the University of Adelaide and a member of Wildlife Health Australia, has recently come on board as a participant in the university based wildlife disease surveillance program (see story above). 

A typical work day for Lucy involves teaching final year veterinary students, diagnostic investigations in zoo, wildlife and domestic animals, and conducting wildlife research including projects on wombats and marine wildlife with collaborators at the University of Adelaide and University of Queensland.

Lucy said she especially loves the problem solving aspect of diagnostic work, especially histopathology and case investigation.

“An interesting case from 2012 involved a diverse team, including an entomologist, a meteorologist, and a marine biologist, to solve a mysterious mass die off of seal pups.

Using the different skills sets, we were able to show the pups had died as a result of an adverse weather event,” Lucy said.

“Our group was also involved in the diagnosis of a morbillivirus in a dolphin mortality event in South Australia in 2013,” she said.

Lucy has had a long interest in wildlife health, undertaking her PhD on a viral-associated skin cancer in the endangered Western barred bandicoot. She has also helped out with research into hatchling survival in sea turtles.

Lucy described WHA as well organised, and run by a dedicated bunch of people.
“It’s good to see Australia’s biosecurity systems encompassing wildlife,” she said.

WHA member Lucy Woolford, pictured with a sea turtle.  

If you see any unusual signs of disease or deaths in wildlife please call the 24 hour Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888, call your local vet, or visit our website to access contact details for Wildlife Health Australia coordinatorsin each state
and territory. 

Wildlife Health Australia is the peak body for wildlife
health in Australia. 

If you see any suspicious signs of disease or deaths in wildlife you can report it to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on freecall 1800 675 888

Find out more at www.wildlifehealthaustralia.com.au
email: admin@wildlifehealthaustralia.com.au  or call +61 2 9960 6333

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