AGM and some gardening work in the Halls Gap Botanic Garden

9 November, 2019

At our AGM we chose the committee for 2020:

  • President: Catherine Pye
  • Vice President: Leigh Douglas
  • Secretary: Bill and Judy Gardner
  • Treasurer: Judith Thompson
  • Committee : Geoff Stratford, Andrew Cunningham, Rodney Thompson, Neil Macumber  A vote of thanks was made to retiring members (Mabel Brouwer and David Steane).
  • Newsletter Editor…Margo helped by Ben

We then did some some gardening work in the Halls Gap Botanic Garden, followed by a talk at the Mural Room on Wildlife Health Surveillance Victoria by Pam Whiteley.

Pam is the coordinator of Wildlife Health Victoria and is highly qualified and experienced Vet in the Faculty of Vet and Agricultural Sciences at University of Melbourne. She had previously worked at Healesville Sanctuary, spent 3 years working in the National Wildlife Health Center (American spelling !)  USA, CSIRO animal health laboratory in Geelong and Vic State Vet Laboratory.

Her fascinating talk gave examples of diseases that our wildlife can have and how this can occasionally be passed to humans ( Zoonoses). Clearly she has a fascinating profession with many times needing to investigate why native animals are sick or dead. It makes her a real detective but apparently the investigations can be very complex and expensive with need to detect poisons and many forms of infections. Pam did mention that it cost $1000 for full toxicology testing!

She emphasised the importance of sending to her the bodies of animals as soon as possible after death as possible to give the best chance to find a cause. She told us to avoid direct contact with the dead animals by ideally using gloves and certainly 2 plastic bags at least and putting this onto ice before posting.

She does get some important specimens from local vets but sadly it seems not all vets know about her work. Without the specimens , her investigation cannot proceed.

As an example of a mystery human illness known as Mycobacterium Ulcerans in which we humans can get a nasty skin ulcer. It seems this maybe contracted from mosquito bites which have contact with certain possums. It is currently being found in people in the Mornington Peninsula and no longer in Bairnsdale where it was first recognised decades ago. Clearly it still is needing more scientific research to get all the answers!

Another example of an infection spread from one  creature to another, Pam cited bacterial infections contracted by Eastern Grey Kangaroos from cattle and sheep.

She also discussed the disease that young kangaroos can get by eating the pasture filaris at certain times. This is well known to sheep farmers also.

She also mentioned the importance of surveillance of the wildlife because of potential dangers to humans or our stock.

Pam also discussed the contracting of serious mites by koalas and wombats contracted possibly from foxes.

Another curious observation was the death of 100 ringtail possums found dead on beaches after a long hot dry summer, thought to be due to dehydration as infections and poisons were excluded. This could be a future risk for possums and koalas with climate change.

Yet another curiosity her team managed to elucidate were of cockatoos with feather loss and weak beaks found to be due to a viral illness.

Pam also discussed multiple deaths of king parrots that were found to be due to their getting an intestinal protozoa from contaminated bird feeders due to faecal contamination.

She also discussed the deaths of many frogs thought to be due to aluminium poisoning from disturbed soil after heavy rain.

Yet another mystery epidemic of deaths, this time of raptors was thought to be due to their consuming rodents who had been poisoned with Rodenticides and this moved onto discussion regarding the problem farmers have of controlling rodents but not harming wildlife. This clearly is a fine line to tread on occasions.

Another fascinating example of mysterious illnesses and deaths were of Dolphins dying of Toxoplasmosis, believed to be due the infection being washed into the ocean from cats! She mentioned a particularly severe death toll in the waters off California.

Currently she is investigating the large number of deaths of shearwaters in Port Fairy and how this maybe linked to deaths of many migratory birds in the Northern Hemisphere this year.

Pam mentioned how few reptiles are sent into her so her knowledge of their diseases is lacking.

She again mentioned the importance that people like us in the public be aware of her department’s existence and their keenness to receive animals for investigation as soon as possible and encouraged us to “spread the word”.