|Bobtail Flu Page 2|
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Since 1996 Shingleback Lizards (called bobtails in Western Australia) have been admitted to Kanyana’s wildlife hospital with an unknown upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) – the Bobtail Flu.
From 2002, the number of affected lizards from all over the Perth metro area- Mandurah to Joondalup, hills to coastal plains, increased dramatically. This disease is very contagious to other bobtails and appears to be airborne. Some locations were hot spots with many lizards affected.
Wildlife carers formed a consultation group with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) in 2000, to share information and alert other carers to disease outbreaks. Wildlife officer, Peter Lambert, located a pathology report (Dept. of Agriculture- Animal Health Laboratories) for a bobtail, dated 23 October 2000. The symptoms were similar and the findings were “possible viral upper respiratory tract infection”.
The summer of 2000 and 2001 was unusual in that many flu-affected bobtails were admitted to Kanyana. Previously these cases were more common in the colder winter months.
In July 2001 Dr. Cree Monaghan (head Veterinarian at Perth Zoo), examined several bodies at post mortem, and sent samples of tissues for pathological examination. Her comment was that a causative agent could not be readily identified which might suggest that the disease could be caused by a virus. Unfortunately, there were not enough resources to go any further. Volunteers at Kanyana continued to explore other avenues to identify the causative agent of the disease and find a cure.
An article on green blood in bobtails, in the Summer 2001 edition of Wildlife Australia Magazine, written by Dr. Marcello Pennacchio of Curtin University. He visited Kanyana in August 2002 and took blood and oral swabs from affected lizards and sent them to Melbourne for virological examination and classification. Marcello also took frozen bodies and a live, moribund animal back to his laboratory. His findings have led to him to believe that the virus he has been studying, produces similar signs to those found in flu-affected bobtails at Kanyana and other wildlife facilities around Perth.
The total number of bobtails admitted to Kanyana in 2001 was 95 of which 40% had the flu. By 2002 this figure rose to 152, which is over 50% more bobtails and half of these had the flu. By 2003 the admissions dropped to 122 and the number of bobtails seen out and about or even road killed bodies, was the lowest in living memory. Some carers have not seen bobtails at all compared to normally high numbers in the past.