Wildlife Health Australia • Quarterly Update - June 2016

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In this issue

- Far North Queensland vet clinic joins surveillance network
- Creative thinking on possible futures for Wildlife Health Australia
- Lyme-like illness in Australia
- Help for orange-bellied parrot
- Member survey
- Annual report available
- Member profile – new Management Committee member Charles Milne

Far North Queensland vet clinic joins surveillance network

Boongarry Veterinary Services in Cairns has become the fourth clinic from across Australia to join Wildlife Health Australia’s sentinel clinic surveillance program. 

Veterinarian Annabelle Olsson said the clinic treats animals from Tully to Cape York and across to the Northern Territory border, routinely caring for kangaroos and wallabies, quolls, lizards, birds, possums, snakes, bats, and even cassowaries and crocodiles.

“At Boongarry we want to help fill the gaps in knowledge about our local native animals, and also contribute to the national picture of wildlife health,” said Annabelle.
WHA’s Keren Cox-Witton explained the data provided by the clinic is used to better understand disease threats to biodiversity, human health and livestock.
The other three veterinary clinics participating in WHA’s sentinel clinic program are the Adelaide Koala and Wildlife Hospital, Lort Smith Animal Hospital in Melbourne, and the RSPCA Queensland Wildlife Hospital in Brisbane. 

Wildlife health surveillance occurs in all jurisdictions in Australia, including the Australian Antarctic Territory.  The sentinel clinic program is one of a number of national wildlife surveillance activities that are coordinated by WHA, help support Australia’s bigger biosecurity system and protect our natural environment.

Pictured: Annabelle Olsson from Boongarry Veterinary Services with a palm cockatoo.

Creative thinking on possible futures for Wildlife Health Australia

The Wildlife Health Australia Management Committee has kicked off the first in a series of roundtable discussions to explore a range of different futures for the organisation. 

The conversation included invited guests Ted Alter from Penn State University, and social researcher and consultant Brian Furze.

WHA CEO Rupert Woods explained the event coincided with the management committee’s fifth meeting, held in Melbourne in April.

“The focus of the day was on long term planning, the aim of which is to put WHA on a more sustainable footing.  This is becoming increasingly important as WHA runs into the end of its first funding cycle,” said Rupert.

The roundtable discussions are designed to augment other business planning and development activities.

Rupert said the roundtable discussions seek to enhance understanding of the operating environment and emergent trends that relate to WHA’s vision, goals and programs; and to generate and test lines of enquiry on potential development pathways.

An independent facilitator led discussions for both meetings, which were informed by interviews with WHA staff and management committee members. 

“It was a very successful day.  WHA has a clear understanding of its mission and the next steps in planning for an exciting future.  Members will be kept informed of developments and the work of your management committee in upcoming WHA quarterly newsletters,” said Rupert.

If you are interested in learning more about the management committee and its activities please contact your management committee representative or the CEO, Rupert Woods.


Pictured: from left, invited guests Ted Alter and Brian Furze, with WHA chair and Australian Chief Veterinary Officer Mark Schipp, at the roundtable discussion in April.

Lyme-like illness in Australia

Wildlife Health Australia has made a submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee for inquiry into the growing evidence of an emerging tick-borne disease that causes a Lyme-like illness for many Australian patients.

Lyme disease is the most common disease spread by ticks in the northern hemisphere. In Australia, there have been many reported cases of patients experiencing similar symptoms after being bitten by a tick, such as a rash, fever, and headache.

In our submission, we recommend research to expand Australia’s knowledge of ticks, other vectors, the diseases they may carry and the role of wildlife.

WHA project officer Andrea Reiss coordinated the submission.

“The current situation in Australia is that there is very little known about Australian ticks and the bacteria, viruses and protozoa they carry. We believe it is highly likely that any Australian tick-borne pathogens, including those with the potential to cause disease in humans, will be unique to our continent. This means Australia can’t rely on diagnostic tests and expertise from overseas, we need to develop these ourselves.  As with so many other diseases that can affect people, it is also likely that wildlife will be involved in the ecology of Lyme-like disease in Australia,” said Andrea.

“We have offered to help in locating key wildlife health, ecology and conservation experts to assist with focused research and investigation,” she said.

The full submission from WHA is number 804 and is available here.

The committee has tabled an interim report in May and is now suspended due to the pending federal election.

Pictured: An Australian tick, Ixodes holocyclus, photo courtesy Pests and Diseases Image Library, bugwood.org


Help for orange-bellied parrot

A veterinary technical reference group to support the orange-bellied parrot recovery program is now in operation, and is being facilitated by Wildlife Health Australia.

The reference group comprises university-based veterinarians, veterinary pathologists, avian ecologists and virologists, and representatives from institutions, agencies and organisations currently involved in the recovery program.

WHA’s Tiggy Grillo said that the group has had a number of teleconferences and one face to face meeting since its formation in August 2015, and has developed a number of guidelines to help manage the health of these endangered birds.

“The purpose of the group is to provide advice on health, disease and biosecurity related issues in support of the recovery plan,” she explained.

Fewer than 70 orange-bellied parrots are known to exist in the wild. The population size has varied annually over the last five years, but remains very small. No consistent trend in population size has emerged in recent years.

Variation in population size occurs as part of the annual life cycle of this migratory bird. Most years around 50-60% of the birds that migrate north for winter will return to breed the following summer. 

Numbers will then increase in summer as young produced that breeding season join the population, and a number of captive-bred birds are released.

The captive population remains close to current maximum capacity, which is limited to around 350 birds. Management of the captive population has improved the genetic quality of the population, and has allowed for release of captive-bred birds to supplement the wild population.

WHA is well placed to assist in coordination and provision of support for response agencies responsible for diseases that may impact on Australia’s biodiversity and natural environment. 

If you are interested in donating or volunteering to support the recovery program, please check out the information from Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, and find out how to participate in the winter surveys at Birdlife Australia.


Pictured: An orange-bellied parrot, photo courtesy of G.B. Baker. 

Member survey

In May, Wildlife Health Australia’s individual, associate and organisational members had a chance to provide input and feedback to the organisation through a short survey.

WHA CEO Rupert Woods said the views of members were extremely important.

“I’d like to thank everyone who responded to the surveys, and encourage all members to feel free to contact us at any time with ideas about how we can improve our services and any other thoughts you might have about wildlife health in Australia,” he said.

Two-hundred-and-sixty individual or associate members completed a survey (a 47 per cent response rate), with 97 per cent indicating they were satisfied with WHA. Seventy-three percent of members were very satisfied. Fifteen organisational members also provided feedback through the survey, representing a 45 per cent response rate.

A summary of results will be included in the September issue of Quarterly Update.

Everyone completing the survey had the chance to win a prize, and Judy Clarke was the lucky winner and has chosen a two-year subscription to Australian Geographic.


Annual report available

The 2014-2015 Wildlife Health Australia annual report (pictured) is available on the WHA website.

WHA CEO Rupert Woods encouraged members to read and share the report.  

“It is an excellent overview of our first full year of operations and a great credit to everyone who is helping build a better wildlife and biosecurity system for Australia. The management committee have done a great job in getting us organised and the report shows the wide range and depth of activities we undertake on behalf of the nation.  We also need to thank and recognise the Australian government, our members and supporters for their vision in ensuring that this important part of our national biosecurity arrangements receives the recognition it deserves,” he said.

Member profile - new Management Committee member Charles Milne

Chief Veterinary Officer of Victoria, Charles Milne, has recently joined the Management Committee of Wildlife Health Australia.

“My first impressions are that WHA has a key role in co-ordinating the various wildlife interests within Australia and that the organisation will be a key stakeholder in managing many emergency animal disease outbreaks where its communication networks could add huge value.  The presence on Animal Health Committee of the WHA CEO provides a useful conduit for the exchange of information, expectations and capability,” he said.

Charles was appointed Chief Veterinary Officer of Victoria in 2014. Previous roles include head of the Food Standards Agency in Scotland and Chief Veterinary Officer of Scotland.

In Scotland, Charles’ wildlife-related interests included the role of badgers and deer in bovine tuberculosis, and the role and implications of deer and wild boar in foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks. (Scotland successfully applied to the European Union to be recognised as free from bovine tuberculosis.) He also gave advice on European bat lyssavirus in bats, designed quarantine measures for reintroduction programs including for the European beaver and sea eagles, and contributed to the debate on whether to reintroduce the European wolf.

In his current role, Charles has provided advice on Hendra virus, Australian bat lyssavirus, and the potential implications of wildlife in managing emergency animal disease outbreaks.

Charles’ profile is available on the WHA website. Welcome Charles!


Pictured: Chief Veterinary Officer of Victoria, Charles Milne, has recently joined the Management Committee of Wildlife Health Australia.

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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