Murdoch researchers help Australia-wide wildlife health project

January 19, 2016

Carnaby's cockatoo in flight (Pic by Ric Dawson)Murdoch University veterinary researchers are making an invaluable contribution to a one year pilot project which aims to boost Australia’s capture of wildlife health data.

Dr Bethany Jackson and Dr Nahiid Stephens from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences are inputting important data into the electronic Wildlife Health Information System (eWHIS) which will help scientists monitor wildlife diseases across Australia including those which can jump from wildlife to people or domestic animals.

Murdoch is one of seven Australian universities inputting data into eWHIS, which is managed by Wildlife Health Australia (WHA).

“Information regarding the location, occurrence and outcomes for either suspected or confirmed wildlife disease cases will be entered, as well as negative test results as this constitutes screening for such diseases,” said Dr Stephens, who is a pathology lecturer and researcher at Murdoch.

“Having all this data available in one resource will provide early warning of any outbreak that may involve multiple areas nationally.”

Dr Jackson, who is a lecturer and researcher in wildlife health and epidemiology at Murdoch, said: “Without national capability to collect information on these disease events, we would be working in relative isolation in our own institutions, with little idea, at least initially, that others might be seeing the same thing.

“Long term there are potentially many benefits to the scientific community, including Murdoch’s researchers, because the database will help to bring expertise together for collaborative research.”

As a result of funding from WHA, Dr Jackson and Dr Stephens have been able to offer a targeted pathology service to two wildlife centres in Perth – Kanyana Wildlife Centre and Native ARC – that will broaden the scope and reach of the surveillance program as well as enhancing the researchers’ understanding of local wildlife health issues.

“This collaboration highlights the important contribution wildlife care centres can deliver for wildlife health surveillance and biosecurity purposes,” added Dr Jackson.

Data is currently contributed to eWHIS by government agencies and departments along with zoo wildlife hospitals, private veterinarians and national programs for detecting Australian bat lyssavirus and avian influenza in wild birds.

WHA project officer Dr Sam Gilchrist said the contribution of universities is likely to bring in a wider dataset in terms of different wildlife species, and the geographic areas where they are found. The number of records going into eWHIS could increase by around 50 per cent as a result of the project, he added.

The pilot program would improve linkages between the universities and other government and non-government surveillance partners and is expected to deliver faster identification of issues and a valuable national perspective on new research opportunities, said Dr Gilchrist.

The other universities involved in the pilot project are Charles Sturt University, James Cook University, the University of Adelaide, the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney.

The program could be rolled out to include other universities if the pilot project proved a success.

Notes for Editors

WHA is the peak body for wildlife health in Australia and is a not for profit association initiated by the Australian government and funded by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

WHA was established to promote and facilitate collaborative links in the investigation and management of wildlife health, and to support human and animal health, biodiversity and trade.

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