Expert examines sick roos after rain event

By Paula Doran
A leading Sydney pathologist has agreed to assess kangaroos which have died in Western NSW, to find out whether the cause of death was linked to a mass die-off.

Former Department of Primary Industries (DPI) vet and epidemiologist, Dr Greg Curran updated the Barrier Truth this week with the news graziers, vets and a pathologist were currently working together after sick roos were observed on a property near Booligal in the Riverina.

And he says now that the La Nina rains have arrived, it’s more important than ever for landholders, national parks staff and roo shooters to keep an eye on animal behaviour.

This follows mass kangaroo die-offs and livestock fertility issues witnessed after similar conditions in 2016, the 1990s and 2010.

“The investigation of the cause of widespread mortalities in kangaroos is important in itself.

As a country, we need to know what is killing our iconic kangaroo,” Dr Curran said.

“But this investigation has wider importance.

NSW Department of Primary Industries was reported in the Barrier Truth as saying that ‘there is no evidence to link kangaroo mortality events in NSW to health issues in other species’. This statement is incorrect,” says Dr Curran.

“In late 1998 and early 1999, low mortality rates were seen in cattle and sheep in areas with high mortality rates in red kangaroos, and moderate rates in greys and euros,” says Dr Curran.

“It was noted that the gross pathologies observed in macropods were similar to that in Paroo Staggers in sheep. A die off of crows occurred, with renal amyloidosis.

“In 1993, 27 western NSW properties had had a new disease, Paroo Staggers in sheep.

A report by John Glastonbury and others documented the gross pathology of severe cases, which was recognised later as similar to the damage in kangaroos,” Dr Curran said.

He said that in retrospect, findings in the report could be interpreted as indicating:

  • presence of a transmissible agent;
  • transmission between sheep and two other species (chicken and hamster) in a laboratory setting; and
  • that the transmissible agent was not a virus.

“Prior to these pandemics in kangaroos and sheep, in a 1990 die off in southwestern Queensland, high mortalities in reds, and lower mortalities in sheep, greys and wallaroos were reported from a helicopter survey.

This die off was reported over a vast area, from Longreach south to the New South Wales border, with estimated losses of 300,000 macropods,” he said.

On August 6, 1999, it was again reported that lesions observed in a red kangaroo were similar to that seen in severe Paroo Staggers in sheep.

The Kangaroo Management Committee meeting at Tibooburra in 1999 was told that affected macropods had similar lesions to sheep with Paroo Staggers (report dated 27 August 1999).

Dr Curran said it was vital that we look for answers now, as we again head into a bumper season on the land.

“After the millennial drought in 2016, a massive kangaroo die-off began.

A large goat die-off was seen associated with numerous dead kangaroos sighted during aerial mustering.

On investigation, the surviving goats had similar gross pathology as cattle with 3D and November Disease,” he said.

And he said there were eye-witness reports from graziers that the kangaroo pandemic was not limited to roos.

“Dead kangaroos and crows were observed in 2016 near waters where cattle were dying with November Disease in South Australia,” he says.

“Sheep deaths were observed on a property adjoining one with November Disease in cattle.

“Dead kangaroos and dead crows were seen in 2017 on a South Australian pastoral property with major reproductive problems in cattle and in sheep.”

Dr Curran said Western Division pastoralists were aware of the linkages.

“About 1000 sheep died in 2017 on a property where kangaroo deaths had continued from 2016, with marked ill thrift in weaners.

Other similar die offs in sheep have been reported in the region.

“Typically, these have either not been diagnosed, or the field diagnosis has not been supported by laboratory investigation, and the possible relationship to other diseases of unknown aetiology in other species not considered,” he said.

“Dead emu carcasses were seen mixed with carcasses of dead kangaroos during the 2016 to 2018 die off in two separate conservation areas.”

Dr Curran urged those undertaking post mortems of stock and wildlife to take full precautions when working with the carcases of affected animals.

“The veterinarian who necropsied 3D cattle near Euston in 2016 fell ill and was hospitalised for several days shortly afterwards.

He had worked on the kangaroo die offs and other diseases of unknown aetiology including Paroo Staggers since the early 1990s.

He had mild to moderate illness of varying nature repeatedly about a week after doing necropsies on animals with these diseases of unknown aetiology.

“His employer directed that the veterinarian not undertake any further post-mortems, and later directed that he not undertake any field work.”

Dr Curran said he will be awaiting further communication from pathological testing and hoped research would enable the region to avoid similar stock and wildlife losses, which in 2016 for kangaroos, saw the death of millions of macropods.

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