Kimberley covered for wildlife health

Media release 15 February 2018

Two Kimberley veterinary clinics have joined a national program to help track the health of Australia’s wildlife.

Broome Veterinary Hospital and Kimberley Vet Centre, based in Kununurra, are the primary providers of veterinary services for wild animals across a region the size of Victoria.

The two clinics have treated a range of wild animals including king brown snakes, wedge-tailed eagles, pythons, wallabies, bats, echidnas, turtles, and even a 500-kilogram salt water crocodile.

Wildlife Health Australia CEO Dr Rupert Woods said Broome Veterinary Hospital and Kimberley Vet Centre are the first Western Australian private veterinary clinics to join the national sentinel clinic surveillance program.

Dr Woods explained the data collected through the program will be used to better understand disease threats to livestock, human health and biodiversity.

“The addition of these sentinel clinics adds to the big picture of wildlife health. The clinics will help to enhance existing surveillance programs in northern Western Australia. The information these private clinics feed through to us will complement what is already being collected through the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS), the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), the WA Wildlife Health Reference Group (WAWHRG) and other networks including wildlife carers,” Dr Woods said.

“We help Australian governments keep an eye on potential threats to farmed animals such as avian influenza, and diseases with human health implications such as Australian bat lyssavirus. Wildlife are the most common source of emerging diseases so we are also on the lookout for anything new, including diseases found overseas that could come into Australia.

“The Kimberley clinics see a range of wildlife not seen elsewhere in the country, some of which are threatened species, so knowing about potential disease threats is important,” he said.

Dr Cass Wittwer, the Kimberley’s NAQS officer, and Dr Graham Mackereth, DPIRD veterinary officer in Broome, welcomed the addition of the two clinics.

“The Kimberley is a vast area with a population of only around 35,000 people, so the wider the network, the more chance there is of picking up a new or significant disease in wildlife,” Dr Wittwer said. “This is not only important for wildlife itself, but also for the potentially broader effects on human, livestock and environmental health. We need to know about the problem and understand it, before we can take action.”

 Dr Cass Wittwer, of NAQS, with a frilled lizard 

Helen Mooney, of Broome Veterinary Hospital, with a joey

Helen Mooney is from Broome Veterinary Hospital. She said the clinic does not charge for treating wildlife, and by becoming involved in the Wildlife Health Australia program the clinic will receive some funding to help with disease investigations.

“Becoming a sentinel clinic is a great opportunity to be involved in the diagnosing and reporting of significant disease in wildlife for our corner of Australia,” she said.

“We hope to encourage the community to become involved in spotting wildlife in trouble and contacting us for assistance. Broome is lucky to have a fantastic network of wildlife carers who work closely with us and provide another important source of wildlife health feedback.”

Dr Sarah Brett of Kimberley Vet Centre said in 26 years of working as a vet in the region, she had been “incredibly privileged” to treat some magnificent creatures.

“But with cats, cane toads and fire, I’m seeing a lot less wildlife cases coming in, because there is less wildlife out there. I’m passionate about protecting wildlife,” she said.

Like Broome Veterinary Hospital, Kimberley Vet Centre does not charge for treating wildlife.

The Kimberley clinics join six others in the program, across Australia. The sentinel clinic program is one of a number of national wildlife surveillance activities that are coordinated by Wildlife Health Australia and help support Australia’s broader biosecurity system.

Dr Sarah Brett, of Kimberley Vet Centre, with a freshwater crocodile