MORE than 150 kangaroos are believed to have died in less than a month after an outbreak of a parasitic infection led to the discovery of up to 10 carcasses a day in the grounds of Morisset Hospital.
Alarmed wildlife rescue carers called in the authorities after finding too many of the dead animals to dispose of, prompting a joint investigation involving the RSPCA, Department of Primary Industries, Taronga Zoo experts, the Office of Environment of Heritage and others.
Kangaroos at Morisset. Pic: Dean Osland.
Native Animal Trust Fund president Audrey Koosmen said dead kangaroos were first reported to the organisation, which has cared for the animals at the site for some years, about three weeks ago.
Initially she thought it was the work of more “ratbags” who had run over or attacked the animals in the past.
But with large adult eastern grey kangaroos dying quickly, and more carcasses being discovered, the organisation realised “there’s something really wrong with these animals”.
“There’s a lot of little orphans left too,” she said.
“We had to bring the department in and say ‘we can’t cope with this any more’, when we had to dispose of [the carcasses].”
Initial findings show “no evidence of malicious poisoning” and that the kangaroos have been infected with a blood-borne parasite called Babesia, although the species has yet to be identified.
In livestock, it is referred to as “tick fever”, capable of swiftly killing large cattle and requiring quarantines for large outbreaks.
Samples of the kangaroos have been sent to Taronga Zoo this week for autopsy.
A Department of Primary Industries spokeswoman said other samples had been sent to its Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute.
“Babesia macropus has previously been found to infect kangaroos in Australia,” she said.
“This species is not known to have the potential to spread to humans.”
Hunter New England Health reminded staff and clients of the psychiatric hospital not to touch the animals.
Ground staff have also been asked to wear masks and protective equipment when disposing of the roos.
But animal rescuers are angry large numbers of tourists have ignored signs and fed the kangaroos bread, drawing large numbers of both humans and animals to what has become an unofficial visitor attraction.
“I have never seen so many animals in the one spot. I think they’re over-grazed, they may have contaminated their own area,” Ms Koosmen said.
“Now when you drive in the gates – honest to God, when I got down there, there was probably 150 of them waiting at the gate for the [tourist] buses.”
Ms Koosmen was stunned to witness foreign tourists recently pull a joey from its mother’s pouch for a photo.
“Then one of them was trying to cuddle this big buck who’s about six foot tall. I said ‘leave him alone, he’s a father, he’ll bite you, he’ll kick you’,” she said.
Hunter New England Health population health service director Dr David Durrheim said the number of people visiting the grounds was a concern, “and we request that tour operators and other visitor information websites remove any reference to the facility as a tourist attraction”.