Day Down Under

Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old
Dr. David L. Day and new friend
Dr. David L. Day makes a new friend at the Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia, while participating in the People to People Ambassador Program's International Veterinary Medicine Delegation to Australia and New Zealand.

In October and November of 2000, Dr. David L. Day of Smithland, Ky, participated in the People to People Ambassador Program's International Veterinary Medicine Delegation to Australia and New Zealand. The program began in 1957 as part of the US State Department, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. People to People is a worldwide effort to bring citizens together for professional and cultural exchanges, and to work toward international peace and understanding. In addition to sponsoring a variety of professional exchanges, the program organizes student and athletic interactions.

Dr. Day was teamed up with other practitioners, veterinary educators, regulatory officials, and allied professionals. They gained new insights on issues of veterinary practice and wildlife management, some of which Dr. Day shares in this account.

Australia and New Zealand are quite different from the United States in that they're relatively isolated ecosystems, and are comparatively immune to the free exchange of animal species and animal diseases with other land masses. The exceptions are importations instituted by humans.

Australia and New Zealand also have increased susceptibility to the imbalances that can be caused by the presence of non-native species. This is something that the delegation observed with the presence of the brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) in New Zealand. The possums, which were imported in the 1850s in an effort to develop a fur trade in New Zealand, have no natural predators in the country and are negatively affecting native vegetation. They are also a reservoir of bovine tuberculosis, one of the main livestock diseases in New Zealand.

At the Ag Research Center in Upper Hut, near Wellington, New Zealand, possum parasitology researchers are exploring the possibility of using biological methods to control the possums. A field study has been performed to determine whether a particular parasite (Parastrongylus trichosuri) can be introduced to free-ranging possum populations. The hope is that the parasite can be genetically modified to introduce an immunocontraceptive gene to the possums. If successful, this has great implications for dealing with non-native species or other problem populations in the United States or elsewhere.

Members of the delegation discussed baiting techniques used in administering the oral rabies vaccine in New England and Texas, and their possible application in delivering the parasite-treated baits to the possums.

Kiwi have become endangered in the wild because of the introduction of non-native predators, notably, the domestic cat. Kiwi can develop coccidiosis and be infected with blood parasites, Babesia and Hepatazoan.

In Takinini, on the outskirts of Auckland, New Zealand, the delegation visited a private, predominantly equine practice. The practice owner, Dr. Charlie Roberts, revealed that the most costly disease of horses in New Zealand is infection with Streptococcus equi. New Zealand practitioners vaccinate routinely for the causative agent, but the vaccine has limited effectiveness.

Near Sydney, Australia, we visited the University of Sydney's Camden Veterinary Centre and the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute.

I think that with the many functions that it performs cohesively, the institute could serve as a model of organizational efficiency for agriculture departments and related services. It is a multi-use facility incorporating a diagnostic laboratory, an animal-behavior research facility, and an educational facility used by the department of education. The staff also provide extension and specialist consultation services to area farmers.

Other sites visited by our delegation included the Eastern Creek Quarantine Station in western Sydney, wildlife rehabilitation facilities at Lake Cove Park and the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World in Auckland, the Auckland SPCA, and the Auckland Zoo.

I found participation in the International Veterinary Medicine Delegation an enriching experience. It provided me with a new perspective: that there are factors that are of magnified significance in these previously isolated ecosystems, notably the impact of non-native species on native flora and fauna.