The Australian Wildlife Health Centre (AWHC) at Zoos Victoria’s Healesville Sanctuary provides veterinary care for approximately 1300-1500 wildlife patients each year. Roughly 60% of these patients are birds, with common species including Crimson rosellas, Tawny frogmouths, Sulphur-crested cockatoos, Rainbow lorikeets, Eastern rosellas, Australian king parrots and Galahs. These patients may be brought in by wildlife carers and community members, or by referral from other veterinary clinics, for treatment of sickness and injury.
Wild birds may carry pathogens of potential public health significance, such as Chlamydia, Influenza, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Yersinia. These and other pathogens may also be of potential importance to zoo biosecurity and threatened species programs. Understanding the prevalence and significance of these pathogens is important for managing infectious risks, particularly for the veterinarians, veterinary nurses, keepers, wildlife carers and members of the public who handle sick and injured birds. Two of Healesville Sanctuary’s priority native threatened species are birds (the Orange-bellied parrot and Helmeted honeyeater), and as such these captive breeding programs are particularly at risk from pathogens carried into the sanctuary by wild birds.
For this investigation samples including choanal/tracheal and cloacal/intestinal swabs are being collected from wild birds presenting to the AWHC for veterinary care. No zoonotic bacterial enteric pathogens (Salmonella, Campylobacter or Yersinia) were isolated by microbiological culture techniques, although coliforms were cultured from 60 of the 102 birds sampled thus far. Polymerase Chain Reactions to detect Chlamydia, Avian Influenza, Avian Paramyxovirus, Avian Coronaviruses, Salmonella and Campylobacter are in progress.
This investigation hopes to improve our understanding of significant pathogens of Australian wild birds for public health, zoo biosecurity and risk to threatened species programs, and then target detected pathogens in developing guidelines to help reduce infectious risks for people handling wild birds, as well as to reduce risk of transmission to captive animals.