There’s a Fungus Among Us

Deadly Fungal Disease Could Threaten Australia’s Iconic Lizards

A team of scientists have announced the discovery of a deadly fungal disease affecting wild lizards across Australia.

The condition, sometimes referred to as ‘Yellow Fungus Disease’, is dreaded by captive reptile keepers across the globe, who know all too well how contagious and deadly the infection can be. This research, published overnight in Scientific Reports, describes the first cases of the disease detected in the wild anywhere in the world.

The cause of the outbreak is a fungal pathogen, Nannizziopsis barbatae, which feeds on keratin, the main protein in skin. Infection causes severe skin lesions and can progress to systemic infection. Affected lizards have been identified in Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, with focal outbreaks in Brisbane parklands.

The research was led by USC Science Honours student Nicola Peterson, who worked as part of an interdisciplinary team that included USC academics Associate Professor Celine Frere and Dr İpek Kurtböke, Dr Karrie Rose of the Taronga Conservation Society, Dr Stephanie Shaw of the Department of Environment and Science, Dr Tim Hyndman of Murdoch University, Professor Lynne Sigler of the University of Alberta, and Brisbane-based veterinarian Dr Josh Llinas.

“It’s awful to see what this infection does to reptiles,” said Ms Peterson. “The lizards we examined presented with extensive skin lesions, severe emaciation, and loss of toes and tails. They were in terrible condition and clearly suffering.”

Sadly, the infection usually leads to death, even with treatment. Professor Sigler, a world-leading mycologist, said, “The presence of this contagious fungal pathogen in free-living Australian lizards poses a serious conservation threat.”

Reptiles are comparatively understudied and often elusive, so there is real potential for population impacts to occur undetected. Public vigilance can play an important role in identifying and limiting impacts of the disease. Dr Karrie Rose, who is the manager of Taronga’s Australian Registry of Wildlife Health said, “This research highlights the importance of monitoring and investigating emergent disease to protect our iconic species and environments.

The community has a role in this process and can report unusual signs in wildlife to the Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888, or their Wildlife Health Australia State Coordinator.” (https://wildlifehealthaustralia.com.au/AboutUs/ContactDetails.aspx)

This group of fungi, Nannizziopsis species, includes several species known to cause disease and death in reptiles. Although rare cases of infection have also been reported in humans, the species affecting reptiles and humans are different. Ms Peterson’s research showed that Nannizziopsis barbatae was not able to grow at human body temperature, largely mitigating concerns that the fungus could pose a threat to humans. Nonetheless, it is important that only trained individuals using appropriate biosafety measures should handle reptiles with suspicious skin lesions.

Dr Frere said the USC-led study described the first cases of Nannizziopsis infection in free-ranging reptiles, details a new method to culture fungi, and highlights characteristics of the fungus that makes it a high-risk threat to wild reptile populations. “This was the first step in our research into this novel fungal pathogen,” said Dr Frere, who recently received a $967,439 Australian Research Council Future Fellowship for further research into fungal diseases in animal populations. “USC will continue to lead research into how the social behaviours of animals contribute to the spread and transmission of infectious fungal diseases.”

NSW Wildlife Rehabilitation Annual Report 2017–18

This report provides a snapshot of key outcomes for the period from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018 in terms of volunteer numbers and animal rescues undertaken by the sector.

PREFACE

Most of us at some time are likely to encounter native wildlife
that are sick or injured and in need of care. Volunteers with
the support of veterinary professionals provide an invaluable
service rescuing these native animals and investing
considerable time and resources trying to help them recover
so they can be released back into the wild.

The draft NSW Volunteer Wildlife Rehabilitation Sector
Strategy (OEH 2018) was developed to help support
and promote the efforts of the thousands of volunteers
participating in wildlife rehabilitation. A key action in the
strategy is for NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
(NPWS), as part of the Department of Planning, Industry
and Environment, to improve access to the data collected
on the thousands of animals rescued each year. The
knowledge generated from this data will inform research and
conservation programs for hundreds of native animal species.

The Department is pleased to present this first annual
wildlife rehabilitation report. We hope it sheds light on the
important work of volunteers and increases understanding
about the tens of thousands of sick and injured animals that
are rescued and cared for by this sector each year.

We thank all the wildlife rehabilitation organisations and
individuals that have submitted data for this report and
acknowledge their ongoing contribution to animal welfare
and environment protection outcomes

Download the 2017-2018 report from NSW Depratment of Planning, Industry & Environment

NSW Wildlife Rehabilitation Annual Report 2018–19

This annual report is the collective story of the NSW wildlife rehabilitation sector.

PREFACE

Most of us at some time are likely to encounter native wildlife
that are sick or injured and in need of care. Volunteers with
the support of veterinary professionals provide an invaluable
service rescuing these native animals and invest considerable
time and resources trying to help them recover so they can
be released back into the wild.

The NSW Volunteer Wildlife Rehabilitation Sector Strategy
(DPIE 2020) was developed to help support and promote
the efforts of the thousands of volunteers participating in
wildlife rehabilitation. A key action in the strategy is for the
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), as part of
the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, to
improve access to the data collected on the thousands of
animals rescued each year. The knowledge generated from
this data will inform research and conservation programs for
hundreds of native animal species.

The Department is pleased to present its second annual
wildlife rehabilitation report. We hope it sheds light on the
important work of volunteers and increases understanding
about the tens of thousands of sick and injured animals that
are rescued and cared for by this sector each year.

We would like to thank all the wildlife rehabilitation
organisations and individuals that have submitted data to
this report and their ongoing contribution to animal welfare
and environment protection outcomes.

Download the 2018-2019 report from the NSW Depratment of Planning, Industry & Environment

Support for volunteer wildlife army

The State’s army of volunteer wildlife rehabilitators, and the vets who assist them, will be better supported to meet the demands of native animal rescue with today’s release of the NSW Volunteer Wildlife Rehabilitation Sector Strategy.

Feeding Baby Joeys
Feeding Orphan Joeys

The 3-year plan to support and improve wildlife rehabilitation in New South Wales has in part been developed to incorporate the findings of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said wildlife rehabilitators rescue about 100,000 animals every year and even more in times of crisis.

“Our army of volunteer wildlife rehabilitators worked tirelessly in last summer’s catastrophic bushfires, rescuing countless wildlife, including our precious koalas,” Mr Kean said.

“Without their commitment, dedication and responsiveness our sick and injured native animals would not have survived.”

The NSW Government has already committed $6.52 million to implement the strategy statewide.

Key elements include:

  • consistent standards of operation for the sector
  • improved support for local groups and volunteers
  • better training for veterinarians to assist native wildlife
  • a system of accreditation to replace the current licensing of volunteer wildlife rehabilitation groups.

Additionally, codes of practice for animal care will be enhanced along with training standards for rehabilitators and changes to the policy framework to give people more choice about which group they can join.

“Often working in challenging and confronting circumstances, these volunteers can bear significant personal cost and stress,” Mr Kean said.

“We want volunteers to feel prepared, understood and respected while also equipping them with the necessary skills and resources to perform their crucial role.”

The NSW Volunteer Wildlife Rehabilitation Sector Strategy 2020-2023 is available to download.

Leave that baby bird alone!

Resist the ‘cute factor’

Seeing a helpless baby bird stranded out of its nest tugs at the heart-strings of most people, but there is a simple message—leave that chick alone!

Spring is a time when many birds breed, which inevitably results in plenty of fluffy chicks in the neighbourhood, and some of them give a good impression of being abandoned and helpless when they’re on the ground.

However, don’t be fooled—you should resist the urge to rescue the bird, because usually they don’t need your assistance at all. Most just need to be left alone, and removing a baby bird from its environment is not always in its best interests.

People should ignore the ‘cute factor’ and dispassionately assess whether the bird really needs your help. Ask yourself these questions: Is the chick visibly injured? Is it in real danger of being killed or injured? If the answer is no, leave it alone—it’s the best thing to do.

Sometimes baby birds land on the ground when they’re learning to fly, but that doesn’t mean that they need your assistance. Usually their parents are nearby, waiting to feed and look after their young once you’ve left the scene.

If you find a nest that’s been blown onto the ground, replace it and its contents in a nearby shrub or tree so that the parent birds can continue to attend it. They will find it.

If you find a young Tawny Frogmouth on the ground, simply replace it in a nearby tree. It’s the safest place for it.

If you find a baby Masked Lapwing or plover on the ground, leave it where it is; after all, the ground is where they live. Its parents will be nearby (they’re probably swooping you right now).

If you find a chick on the ground and it is:

  1. clearly unattended by its parents (watch this from a distance for some time so you’re not keeping them away); and
  2. it’s in imminent danger from cats, dogs or traffic; and
  3. it can’t be left in a safe place nearby: do not attempt to look after the bird on your own. Place it in a dark, warm, dry place (such as a cardboard box with plenty of air holes, and padding such as a towel inside), keep it safe from the family cats and dogs, and then contact your local wildlife rescue shelter or vet straight away.

Remember, cute is not the same as helpless.