Wildlife disease surveillance in Victoria: identifying diseases in wildlife populations

A project undertaken at Wildlife Health Surveillance Victoria, Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Melbourne, and supervised by Ian Beveridge

Collaborators: Andrew Vizard and Pam Whiteley

Surveillance of wildlife health is important because wildlife diseases affect:

  1. Wildlife biodiversity conservation.  e.g. Chytrid fungus in frogs and Psittacine Circoviral (beak and feather) Disease are listed as key threatening processes by the Australian DEHWA
  2. Domestic animal health interactions
  3. Human health and zoonotic infections


Our scientific objectives are:

  • To identify diseases in wildlife in Victoria.
  • To develop understanding about wildlife diseases and infections, their ecology, epidemiology and impacts.
  • To create a sustainable and broad-based wildlife health surveillance system in Victoria linked to the Australian Wildlife Health Network.

An on-line survey took place from December 2008 to March 2009 from our website, Wildlife Health Surveillance Victoria.  Our goals were to collect baseline health knowledge of free ranging Victorian wildlife populations and to identify collaborators.  Reports were contributed by 83 people with 95% interested in regularly reporting sick or dead wildlife to us in the future.  The Survey results indicated significant health issues that may relate to disease and/or other factors.  In koalas 24% of people reported seeing thin animals, 23% found on the ground, 19% weak, 13% 'wet tail', and 11% with eye discharge.   For kangaroos and wallabies 24% reported thin animals, 19% weak, 16% in-coordinated, and13% apparently blind.  Forty two percent reported wombats with mange.  For parrots and cockatoos 35% reported thin birds, 28% weak, 33% feather changes, 26% beak changes, possibly due to Beak & Feather circovirus.  Several species of wildlife were reported with ulcers or scabs possibly from Mycobacterium ulcerans, the cause of Bairnsdale Ulcer in people.  From these results, we are undertaking follow-up investigations on koalas, and parrots and cockatoos.

In 2009-10 we are working to develop both a rapid and regular reporting system.  We are seeking to identify additional interested individuals in key locations around Victoria and in a range of stakeholder organizations to report wildlife health events, collect carcasses, and help store and ship specimens to us for further investigation.  Rapid reporting helps us investigate endemic disease and detect changes, and regular reporting assists with information on rates of disease in populations.  We hope to map disease in wildlife species.

In July 2009 sub-adult Eastern Grey Kangaroos were reported weak and dead at the Grampians, in western Victoria.  We examined eight animals and found a blood sucking intestinal worm, Globocephaloides trifidospicularis.  Disease was associated with high animal densities and lack of immunity in young Eastern Grey Kangaroos.  A report was circulated to help others recognize cases elsewhere in Victoria.  This investigation involved several collaborations.

We are keen to receive reports of wildlife health events (sickness and death) in free ranging Victorian populations.  Please contact Pam Whiteley, 0400 119 301, pamw@unimelb.edu.au or via our website: Wildlife Health Surveillance Victoria (see Reporting wildlife health).


Figure 1. Weak Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Figure 2. Dr Duignan and Professor Beveridge investigating Eastern Grey Kangaroos

Figure 3. Globocephaloides worm that is killing Eastern Grey Kangaroos

Figure 4. Long billed corellas disease investigation


Figure 5. Students collecting swabs from Gannets for virus testing


Figure 6. Koala with eye problem


Figure 7. Wombat with mange.