Wildlife Health Australia • Quarterly update - September 2016

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In this issue

- Challenges of big country
- Member survey results
- Rupert Woods AM
- One Health EcoHealth conference
- Welcome Silvia Ban
- Annual general meeting in November
- Vale Rick Speare
- Member profile - Jenny Mclean

Challenges of a big country

Australia covers a land area of over 7 million square kilometres, much of which is remote and sparsely populated. This presents a challenge for detecting and investigating wildlife disease events, but not an insurmountable one, as a recent case study reveals.

In January this year, a member of the public went for a walk along Somerset Beach, close to the tip of Cape York, Queensland, and found a group of rainbow lorikeets on the ground that looked to have recently died. That person reported what they saw to the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) biosecurity officer in Bamaga, twenty-five kilometres away. The biosecurity officer travelled to the site and collected one bird carcass which was still fresh enough to be investigated. The bird was then refrigerated and sent to Cairns (approx. 960 km from Bamaga) for a post mortem. Samples were collected and sent to the state government laboratory in Brisbane (approx. 1,600 km from Cairns) for further testing and to rule out specific diseases of concern. The testing at government laboratories in Cairns and Brisbane ruled out avian influenza and avian paramyxovirus, but indicated a possible pesticide poisoning. 

“We keep an eye on avian influenza and avian paramyxoviruses given the potential for some strains to mutate and seriously impact domestic poultry. Both viruses are naturally present in some wild Australian waterfowl species and rarely cause disease in these species, but a wild bird mortality caused by one of these viruses might be the first indication of a new strain,” said WHA’s Tiggy Grillo.

“That’s why it is important to investigate large or unusual wild bird mortality events,” she added.

Poisoning events in wild birds may result from:

  • accidental or deliberate contamination of food sources

  • illegal pesticide disposal

  • pesticide misuse

  • inadvertent secondary poisoning of non-target species through feral species control programs.

“In some cases of toxicity, the origin of a pesticide is not clear.  Investigation and reporting of mortality events due to poisoning can provide useful data to better understand the circumstances and susceptibilities of native wildlife,” said Tiggy.

Tiggy also noted that WHA aims to capture remote wildlife disease events by incorporating surveillance reports from veterinary clinics and agencies working in these locations.

“For example, general wildlife disease surveillance reports are received from NAQS officers working across remote locations in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland; and wildlife hospitals and zoos participating in WHA’s zoo and sentinel clinic wildlife disease surveillance program report on wildlife cases from the Northern Territory and far north Queensland,” she said.

A discussion on the challenges of wildlife disease surveillance in remote locations is included in the WHA report in the September 2016 issue of Animal Health Surveillance Quarterly. The report also summarises all wildlife disease reports in Australia for January to March 2016.

A rainbow lorikeet, photo courtesy Ákos Lumnitzer - amatteroflight.com

Member survey results

High levels of satisfaction and support for Wildlife Health Australia were revealed in a member survey conducted in May. 

Fifteen of the organisational members (45 per cent) and 260 individual or associate members (47 per cent) provided feedback.  Of the members who provided responses, 97 per cent indicated they were satisfied with WHA and 73 per cent very satisfied.  

Results of the survey included:

  • Motivations for members’ interest in wildlife health included conservation of wildlife species (87 per cent), human health (55 per cent), treatment or caring of wildlife (43 per cent) and livestock health (43 per cent).

  • Membership encompasses a wide spectrum of organisations including federal and state  agriculture, environment and human health government agencies, universities, private practice veterinarians, wildlife conservation agencies, research organisations, wildlife carers, and zoos.

  • Respondents identified the most useful services provided by WHA as the Digest weekly e-newsletter (92 per cent), wildlife disease fact sheets (74 per cent), and ad hoc disease notifications (62 per cent).

  • From the services provided by WHA, members reported significant improvements to their work outputs. For example, 100 respondents indicated that diagnostic capability had already been improved, with a further 63 respondents indicating it would be improved in future. In addition, 125 respondents said biosecurity and surveillance had been strengthened, with a further 61 respondents indicating it was likely to be improved in the future.

  • Ninety percent of respondents expressed an interest in attending a WHA meeting if it were held in their state or territory, with popular themes for the meeting including learning about wildlife disease investigation and response (35 per cent), and networking opportunities (22 per cent).

  • Sixty per cent of respondents expressed an interest in following WHA on social media, with Facebook the most popular platform.

The survey results have been reviewed by WHA staff and the Management Committee, and shared with WHA’s major funding body, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, along with other key stakeholders.

WHA CEO Rupert Woods said following the feedback WHA would launch a Facebook page, and would look at hosting some regional meetings next year.

Rupert thanked members for their thoughtful comments and suggestions.

“It’s great to get feedback from everyone.  One of our bigger objectives is to try to support Australia’s shared vision for biosecurity,” said Rupert.  

“Receiving this feedback helps shape where we are going in future and is invaluable for us all.  I’d encourage anyone with good ideas to contact their representative on the WHA board and share these ideas with them,” he said.

WHA is planning to conduct another member survey next year.

Rupert Woods AM

Wildlife Health Australia CEO Rupert Woods (pictured) was recognised in this year's Queen’s Birthday honours list.
Rupert was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to veterinary science as a clinician and administrator, and to the management of wildlife health and welfare. 

His role in helping to set up and lead WHA was a feature of his nomination for the award.

Rupert said he hopes the honour will highlight the contributions of all members to WHA and the importance of wildlife health for Australia.

“I accepted the honour on behalf of the board and staff of WHA who have been so central to ensuring that this important area of Australia’s biosecurity arrangements is addressed,” he said.

Chair of Wildlife Health Australia, Australian Chief Veterinary Officer Mark Schipp, said Rupert has been instrumental in the establishment of Wildlife Health Australia, and in the development of Australia’s systems for monitoring and management of wildlife health. The Management Committee is very pleased that he has received this honour in recognition of his tireless work in this field.

One Health EcoHealth conference

The best approaches to dealing with complex global health challenges will be discussed at an international conference to be held in Melbourne from 3 - 7 December 2016.

Wildlife Health Australia staff will attend the One Health EcoHealth 2016 conference to network with national and international colleagues. If you are attending please come and say hello – look out for the shared Animal Health Australia and Wildlife Health Australia booth in the exhibition area.

Welcome Silvia Ban

Wildlife Health Australia in May welcomed a new part-time staff member, project support officer Silvia Ban. Her role covers data management and administration.

Originally from Brazil, Silvia is a veterinarian who has coordinated an array of database projects. She also holds a bachelor degree in business administration. Following her interest in wildlife health and conservation, she completed a Masters of Wildlife Health and Population Management at the University of Sydney, looking at coccidiosis in green turtles. Silvia has consolidated risk and mitigation strategies relating to feeding wild birds in Australia.

“I am thrilled to work in a multi-stakeholder environment that improves wildlife disease management,” said Silvia.

Annual general meeting in November

Wildlife Health Australia members are invited to attend the organisation’s annual general meeting, to be held in Sydney on the 10th November 2016.

WHA CEO Rupert Woods said the meeting would include an overview of major activities and achievements, the financial standing of the organisation, and include a presentation on the Evolution and Ecology of Beak and Feather Disease Virus in Australasia by Andrew Peters.

Elected Management Committee members will also be announced, with a meeting of the committee to be held on the same day, prior to the annual general meeting.

To register your interest in attending the annual general meeting please contact the WHA office.

Vale Rick Speare

Public health physician, veterinarian, researcher, and Wildlife Health Australia member Rick Speare passed away as a result of a car accident in June.

WHA CEO Rupert Woods paid tribute to Rick for his contribution to the organisation, and to human and wildlife health in Australia and the wider region. However, his fondest memories of Rick were personal.

“We will all have our memories of Rick. My most vivid were around those quiet moments when you could sidle up and sit down next to him and start chatting about ‘stuff’. It didn’t really matter what it was, he would pause, turn his head in that way he did and give you the ‘Rick Speare glance’ to indicate that his intellect was piqued and you knew you were in for an adventure. I liked the way that he could converse on just about anything. He always had an opinion, could articulate it, defend it, and was never afraid to give it. 

“Whilst many of us feel the call of wildlife and trying to make a difference, Rick was out there living it. There were no borders or boundaries for him. He followed his interests, meeting, mentoring, helping and influencing along the way. He was a kind and good man and through all the ups and downs of a busy life, remained grounded, happy and humble. All of us will have read Kipling’s poem ‘If’. Go and find it on the web now, read it again and think of Rick. That is the man I knew and will remember,” said Rupert.

Rick was Emeritus Professor at James Cook University in Townsville before founding Tropical Health Solutions in 2011. Rick’s contributions to wildlife health, human health and parasitology span decades.

“Rick’s ability to engage with everyone was legendary. He has been an important member of the WHA Bat Health Focus Group and was always willing to provide input and offer his expertise and time. He has worked across most areas of wildlife and human health from macropod mortalities to human head lice.  Our thoughts go out to his friends and family. He will be missed,” said Rupert.

Member profile - Jenny Mclean

Atherton-based physiotherapist Jenny Mclean (pictured) first became involved in caring for bats in 1990, after reading an article in the local paper calling for volunteers to care for young bats who had lost their mothers to tick paralysis.

By 2000, Jenny had founded the Tolga Bat Hospital and was working full time to provide care for orphaned and injured bats.

The Hospital continues to keep Jenny busy, along with a small army of volunteers and another full time staff member, Deb Melville. Jenny has taught herself a range of skills, including designing websites, talking to school children, writing grant applications, building cages and enclosures, and observing bats in the wild.

Small groups of tourists are able to book in to visit the Hospital, an experience highly rated on TripAdvisor, which brings in money to support operations as well as helping to change attitudes towards bats.
“Bats have a poor public image. We try to educate our visitors about the valuable ecological role bats play, and send tourists away with some positive ideas about bats,” she said.

When Quarterly Update spoke with Jenny, 110 bats were in care. The Hospital was supporting another 400 orphan spectacled flying-foxes which had recently been released, by distributing food at their roosting site. One thousand kilos of apples and 300 kilos of bananas had just been delivered, enough to keep the bats fed for three weeks.

Tick paralysis remains a major seasonal problem for spectacled flying-foxes, and barbed wire fencing also injures hundreds of bats each year, mostly little red flying-foxes.

The Hospital is currently hosting two undergraduate students who are completing research projects, including examining 10 years of detailed orphan records to look at birthing pulses and develop a growth chart for spectacled flying-foxes. The birthing pulse data will be used by CSIRO’s Gary Crameri and Peter Durr to try and better understand risks of spill-over events of Hendra virus to horses, while CSIRO’s Ina Smith has been involved in diagnosing disease in flying-foxes. 

“I’ve always tried to maximise our contribution towards research,” said Jenny, who says her training in physiotherapy has been a good background for rehabilitating injured animals.

Over the years the Hospital has supported and collaborated with bat researchers, including with many members of Wildlife Health Australia, and Jenny sends unusual cases to Wildlife Health Australia state coordinator Anita Gordon, at Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory, for examination.

As a member of WHA, Jenny is involved in the Bat Health Focus Group, coordinated by WHA staff member Keren Cox-Witton. Jenny’s contribution in providing her perspective and experience to the group is very valuable. The group meets regularly to discuss issues relating to bat health and contributes to production of WHA publication ABLV Bat Stats.

Jenny says it is her passion for bats, “an animal that is misunderstood, an animal that needs champions” that keeps her working seven days a week, up to 16 hours a day, to run the Tolga Bat Hospital.

WHA member Jenny Mclean at the Tolga Bat Hospital.

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 coordinators in 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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