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Disease spreads

Wednesday, 31st January, 2018

Veterinarian Greg Curran observing a sick large male red kangaroo. Veterinarian Greg Curran observing a sick large male red kangaroo.

By Emily Ferguson

The mystery illness that has been killing off the kangaroos in western NSW appears to also be affecting other animals such as feral goats, cattle, sheep and even crows.

Veterinarian and leading researcher on the issue Greg Curran, shared new found information and the exact statistics of kangaroos that have died over the past year.

The deaths include 2.5 million grey kangaroos and 1.5 million red kangaroos, an astonishing total of 4 million kangaroos have died as a result of this unknown disease.

Evidence shows that this disease does indeed spread to goats and potentially cattle and sheep, which is cause for great concern.

It seems that this disease is a multispecies pandemic and experts are still unsure of what exactly the cause is.

There has been a drop of 1.1 million feral goats over the past year. The loss of such a large number of goats across western NSW at the same time that a large number of kangaroos were lost represents an association in epidemiological terms.

It is certain that the disease is not plant poisoning, a genetic problem, heat stress or traumatic, bacterial and it is unlikely to be viral, Dr Curran says.

“So it’s got to be something new.”

Most diseases peak and then drop away but this pandemic has continued since 2016 which is a “remarkable, very distinctive feature,” said Dr Curran.

The 2016 to 2017 pandemic was very large in terms of what has been seen in animal disease in any country. 

Animals affected by this unknown disease are likely to then be dying in the heat, they go from looking normal to dead in a matter of four hours.

In the 1998 episode, almost every kangaroo was wiped out.

“Family groups could be seen sheltering under trees and they looked to be asleep, only when you go closer could you see that they were actually dead,” Dr Curran said.

Since first looking into this unknown disease in 1998, and then the smaller outbreak in 2010, it was predicted in the spring of 2016 that a die off could occur, which it now has.

Dr Curran has been looking at sheep and cattle deaths and they appear to have strong similarities to the diseases evident in the goats and kangaroos. 

In 2016, in the Flinders Rangers, there was a large death of cattle, sheep, kangaroos and oddly crows.

The dead crows were often located close to water and the carcases of other animals.

Dr Greg Curran suspects that the disease affects the reproductive performance within the animals.

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