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High pathogenicity avian influenza in wildlife: Is Australia prepared?

Over the past 20 years, high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) viruses have been spreading around the world, killing millions of wild birds, as well as poultry, and thousands of wild mammals. With the continued evolution and spread of new variants, the risks of the disease arriving in Australia and causing mass mortality of native birds and mammals are likely to have increased.

Australia has a national response plan focused primarily on the risks to the poultry industry. We urge Australia’s governments to establish a national taskforce to prepare and oversee the implementation of a national response plan for wildlife.

Recommendations in summary:

Risk assessments

  1. The Australian Government commission an expert assessment of the risks of high pathogenicity avian influenza for Australian wild birds and mammals, including threatened species.
  2. As part of the risk assessment for wildlife, review the potential benefits and risks for wild birds of the vaccination of poultry against avian influenza. Do not permit vaccination if it will increase the disease risks for wildlife.

National wildlife taskforce

  1. To coordinate a national response to the risks of high pathogenicity avian influenza for wildlife, the Australian Government establish a national taskforce, with membership including environmental and biosecurity agencies from all governments, Wildlife Health Australia, other wildlife and disease experts (including veterinarians), zoo organisations involved in captive breeding and environmental NGOs

National wildlife response plan

  1. The national wildlife taskforce prepare and oversee the implementation of a national wildlife response plan for avian influenza.
  2. The national taskforce review measures applied in and experiences with avian influenza outbreaks in overseas bird colonies to learn what was effective, what to avoid and how to optimise recovery afterwards.
  3. In developing a national response plan for wildlife, the national taskforce consider measures of the following types:
    (a) monitoring, reporting and research
    (b) regulating human access and activities
    (c) removing and disposing of dead birds
    (d) rescuing and euthanasing wildlife
    (e) response planning for local colonies
    (f) keeping humans safe and building public awareness
    (g) vaccinating captive-bred colonies of threatened species.

Local response plans

  1. Australian governments encourage and provide resources for managers of sites with high concentrations of shorebirds, waterbirds or seabirds to prepare local response plans for avian influenza outbreaks in wild birds, guided by advice from the national wildlife taskforce.

Surveillance

  1. The national wildlife taskforce review the 2023 avian influenza surveillance program and provide advice about supplementary surveillance priorities for wild bird populations, including seabirds. This could be supplemented by surveillance, in cooperation with international partners, along inward migration pathways and in the Southern Ocean.
  2. The national wildlife taskforce develop a program to encourage surveillance by indigenous rangers, birdwatchers, land managers and researchers, particularly in remote locations.

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Save the Snowies

The NSW government is one step away from allowing aerial control of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park. This is huge news and a crucial step for our threatened native wildlife and the fragile alpine ecosystems they call home.

Dear Project Team,

[YOUR PERSONALISED MESSAGE WILL APPEAR HERE.] 

I support the amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan to allow our incredible National Parks staff to use aerial shooting as one method to rapidly reduce feral horse numbers. I want to see feral horse numbers urgently reduced in order to save the national park and our native wildlife that live there.

The current approach is not solving the problem. Feral horse numbers have rapidly increased in Kosciuszko National Park to around 18,000, a 30% jump in just the past 2 years. With the population so high, thousands of feral horses need to be removed annually to reduce numbers and stop our National Park becoming a horse paddock. Aerial shooting, undertaken humanely and safely by professionals using standard protocols, is the only way this can happen.

The government’s own management plan for feral horses states that ‘if undertaken in accordance with best practice, aerial shooting can have the lowest negative animal welfare impacts of all lethal control methods’.

This humane and effective practice is already used across Australia to manage hundreds of thousands of feral animals like horses, deer, pigs, and goats.

Trapping and rehoming of feral horses has been used in Kosciuszko National Park for well over a decade but has consistently failed to reduce the population, has delayed meaningful action and is expensive. There are too many feral horses in the Alps and not enough demand for rehoming for it to be relied upon for the reduction of the population.

Fertility control as a management tool is only effective for a small, geographically isolated, and accessible population of feral horses where the management outcome sought is to maintain the population at its current size. It is not a viable option to reduce the large and growing feral horse population in the vast and rugged terrain of Kosciuszko National Park.

Feral horses are trashing and trampling our sensitive alpine ecosystems and streams, causing the decline and extinction of native animals. The federal government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee has stated that feral horses ‘may be the crucial factor that causes final extinction’ for 12 alpine species.

I recognise the sad reality that urgent and humane measures are necessary to urgently remove the horses or they will destroy the Snowies and the native wildlife that call the mountains home. I support a healthy national park where native species like the Corroboree Frog and Mountain Pygmy Possum can thrive.

Kind regards,
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your postcode]


Dear Project Team,

[YOUR PERSONALISED MESSAGE WILL APPEAR HERE.] 

I support the amendment to the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan to allow our incredible National Parks staff to use aerial shooting as one method to rapidly reduce feral horse numbers. I want to see feral horse numbers urgently reduced in order to save the national park and our native wildlife that live there.

The current approach is not solving the problem. Feral horse numbers have rapidly increased in Kosciuszko National Park to around 18,000, a 30% jump in just the past 2 years. With the population so high, thousands of feral horses need to be removed annually to reduce numbers and stop our National Park becoming a horse paddock. Aerial shooting, undertaken humanely and safely by professionals using standard protocols, is the only way this can happen.

The government’s own management plan for feral horses states that ‘if undertaken in accordance with best practice, aerial shooting can have the lowest negative animal welfare impacts of all lethal control methods’.

This humane and effective practice is already used across Australia to manage hundreds of thousands of feral animals like horses, deer, pigs, and goats.

Trapping and rehoming of feral horses has been used in Kosciuszko National Park for well over a decade but has consistently failed to reduce the population, has delayed meaningful action and is expensive. There are too many feral horses in the Alps and not enough demand for rehoming for it to be relied upon for the reduction of the population.

Fertility control as a management tool is only effective for a small, geographically isolated, and accessible population of feral horses where the management outcome sought is to maintain the population at its current size. It is not a viable option to reduce the large and growing feral horse population in the vast and rugged terrain of Kosciuszko National Park.

Feral horses are trashing and trampling our sensitive alpine ecosystems and streams, causing the decline and extinction of native animals. The federal government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee has stated that feral horses ‘may be the crucial factor that causes final extinction’ for 12 alpine species.

I recognise the sad reality that urgent and humane measures are necessary to urgently remove the horses or they will destroy the Snowies and the native wildlife that call the mountains home. I support a healthy national park where native species like the Corroboree Frog and Mountain Pygmy Possum can thrive.

Kind regards,
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your postcode]