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New research by a Wildbase Hospital veterinarian will help combat the parasitic disease coccidiosis that affects kiwi in captivity.
This comes as Wildbase announces a major ten-year partnership with Shell New Zealand that will significantly improve conservation outcomes for New Zealand.
Massey University wildlife veterinarian Kerri Morgan has learned valuable information about the parasite’s biology and how it interacts with kiwi that will now directly affect the conservation management of the species.
The parasite infects the gastrointestinal and renal system and can result in death.
“We see and treat quite a few cases of coccidiosis at Wildbase and we recognised it was a major health problem in the conservation management of kiwi,” Ms Morgan says.
Coccidiosis was first recorded in kiwi in 1978 but little was known about it despite it being the most prevalent disease in kiwi in captivity – with knowledge extrapolated from what was known about coccidiosis in chickens.
“The point of the research was to create knowledge of the parasite and its life cycle within the kiwi host, so we can give advice on husbandry and the management of the disease in captivity,” she says.
Kiwi numbers in the wild continue to decline – with less than five per cent of wild kiwi chicks in non-managed sites reaching adulthood – so hatching and rearing kiwi in captivity away from predators is pivotal for their long-term survival. But as part of conservation strategies such as Operation Nest Egg, young kiwi are often held together in high numbers and this increases the risk of them coming into contact with the parasite and becoming ill.
For her doctoral research Ms Morgan examined tissue samples from dead kiwi, as well as parasitic life stages shed in faeces of hospitalised kiwi treated at Wildbase hospital. Faecal samples from wild and captive kiwi were sent from conservation workers around New Zealand.
She identified coccidiosis in four of the five species of kiwi, including brown, rowi, great spotted and Haast tokoeka, and examined risk factors to determine which kiwi are most prone to the disease. Recovery of DNA from the parasites has enabled determination of the family of coccidia which affect kiwi, and further results are pending which will hopefully shed some light on the different species.
Her research shows the disease behaves very differently in kiwi than chickens, and this information will be used to provide advice to conservation workers managing this disease in captive reared kiwi.
Wildbase director Brett Gartrell says the research is an excellent example of how health problems affecting the conservation of native species can be identified through clinical cases admitted to Wildbase.
“Kerri has been able to engage the research capabilities of Massey University to apply cutting edge scientific methods to this health problem and come up with practical solutions that directly affect the conservation management of the species.”
Dr Gartrell says for the past decade Massey’s Wildbase team has provided veterinary services to native species conservation in New Zealand, treating more than 1800 native animals, half of which come from threatened or endangered species, but they now needed help to do more.
“Our caseload, staffing levels and contributions to conservation has grown annually, but the physical space we work in has not. The Wildbase hospital consists of three small rooms, which are used to hospitalise patients, carry out treatments and do food preparation and orthopaedic surgery. The physical size of the hospital is now limiting both the quality of care and the caseload we can provide.”
“We are currently fundraising to build an expanded Wildbase Hospital, that will directly raise our capability to provide veterinary services for conservation of native wildlife in New Zealand.”
Dr Gartrell is proud to announce Shell New Zealand has made a founding contribution of $400,000 and and has committed to providing annual support for clinical services for the next ten years.
Shell New Zealand has supported the centre since its inception in 2001 and has seen the significant benefits of the work to the management of endangered species. “We are proud to partner and support Wildbase and its dedicated team who are the unsung heroes of New Zealand conservation,” says Shell New Zealand chairman Rob Jager.
“We’ve been working Wildbase for over ten years now and we’re excited about this new chapter, and the new hospital, which will enable staff to treat more animals and give them the best possible care and rehabilitation.
“Shell sees real value in promoting and supporting the things that are important to all New Zealanders. Looking after our threatened species so that they can thrive is critical to maintaining a healthy natural environment we can all enjoy.”
Massey University will contribute a quarter of the $1.47m the new hospital will cost. Public donations can be made here.
The new Wildbase hospital will expand from 25m/sq to 250m/sq and will allow Wildbase to treat more animals to a much higher standard.
It will contain:
• Five wards that will allow Wildbase to treat more birds, and to hold them in better, climate-controlled conditions.
• A dedicated sterile surgical facility that will reduce the risk of infection and improve outcomes
• An air filtration system that will remove airborne bacteria and reduce the risk of infection and surgical complications
• An intensive care unit that will greatly reduce patients’ exposure to noise and light and give enhanced monitoring of sick and injured animals
• Increased space for teaching with the ability for large numbers of students to view operations and learn best practice
• Separate food preparation areas with space to manage live insect growth
• Public viewing areas including a seabird pool which will be open to the public to view from the outside of the building