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Pet Industry News Newsletter 12th June 2017
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A landmark 30-year-long UNSW study of wetlands in eastern Australia has found that construction of dams and diversion of water from the Murray-Darling Basin have led to a more than 70 per cent decline in waterbird numbers.



The finding of severe degradation in the basin due to reduced water flow has significant implications for managing the development of other rivers in Australia and around the world.

“Our study is the first long-term and large-scale assessment of the impacts of dams and diverting water from the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin,” says study lead author UNSW Professor Richard Kingsford.

“For more than 30 years we have carried out an annual aerial survey of waterbirds in an area covering almost a third of the continent. Our analysis of this unique dataset shows there has been severe degradation of the rivers and wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin during this period.

“By comparison, we found no signs of degradation in the rivers and wetlands in the undeveloped Lake Eyre Basin,” he says.

The study is published in the journal Global Change Biology

The Murray-Darling Basin is Australia’s most developed river basin, with 240 dams that store almost 30,000 gigalitres of water. By comparison, the Lake Eyre Basin further inland, which is a similar size, is one of the country’s least developed, with only one dam holding 14 gigalitres of water.

The researchers compared trends in the numbers of waterbirds, including Australian pelicans, black swans, different duck species and shorebirds, across both basins, as well as separately in their main river systems and key wetlands.

They identified a 72 per cent decline in waterbird numbers during the 32 years between 1983 and 2014 in the Murray-Darling Basin, with declines in more than half of the species of waterbirds surveyed. By contrast, waterbird numbers in the Lake Eyre Basin did not change significantly.

The team found that river flows and waterbird numbers were closely linked, indicating reduced water flow due to dam construction and water diversion for irrigation was the primary reason for the long-term declines in waterbirds in the Murray-Darling Basin.

“By grouping waterbirds, such as plant-eating birds and fish-eating birds, we showed that the degradation affected a wide range of different plants and animals in the wetlands; declines in these waterbirds means their food levels are also falling,” says Professor Kingsford, who is Director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science.


The research team identified some impacts of duck hunting in southern Australia but these were not as strong as the effects of diverting water from the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin.

“The key aspect of our study which gives us considerable confidence in our findings is that we were able to show that river flows and waterbird numbers were closely related, despite a range of other factors we examined, including the effect of duck hunting,” says study co-author and UNSW research fellow Dr Gilad Bino.

The study also examines the impact of increased environmental flows provided under the Murray-Darling Basin plan. Although more water could lead to about an 18 per cent recovery in waterbird numbers, the team found this could be reduced to only a 1 per cent increase as a result of long-term climate change, which is not adequately considered in the plan for the Basin.

Last year, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority recommended a reduction in environmental flows of 70 gigalitres per year from the Darling River catchments, including a reduction of environmental flows to the internationally important Macquarie Marshes, which the study shows have also suffered a long-term decline in waterbird numbers across most species.

“This reduction in environmental flows would exacerbate the long-term impacts of water resource development,” says Professor Kingsford. “The importance of environmental flows for the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin cannot be underestimated; they are critical for such wetlands as the Macquarie Marshes where we have international responsibilities.”

As one of the few studies in the world to examine the effects of river and wetland degradation over a long time period and wide area, the results allow the team to warn of the long-term impacts of new dams on rivers in other areas and countries.

“It is not just the waterbirds that are affected, but also the quality of the rivers and the services they provide to downstream communities, such as fish populations and river red gums, ” says Professor Kingsford.

“This study rings alarm bells for the Australian and Queensland governments currently pushing to establish irrigation in Northern Australia. Clearly the building of dams and diversion of water will devastate our tropical wetlands, which are so important for the many ecosystem services they provide, including to future tourism and aboriginal communities.”

For more information please see: https://www.ecosystem.unsw.edu.au/waterbirds_easternAustralia

PIAA Events Calendar

June 10th - 18th                
AusGroom 2017
July 8th - 9th                  
 

ACT Grooming Competition
August 21st - 23rd                 
 AusBoard 2017
August 27th
Dogs QLD Grooming Competiton
September 3rd
Adelaide Royal Grooming Competition
October 1st
Melbourne Royal Grooming Competition
November 4th - 5th
Perth Pet Expo Grooming Competiton

The emergence of flea-borne spotted fever in Australia
 
Flea-borne spotted fever (FBSF) is a rising public health concern in Australia, according to Dr Rebecca Traub, Associate Professor in Veterinary Parasitology at the University of Melbourne.
 
Dr Traub will be speaking at the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) Annual Conference tomorrow about the rise of FBSF in Australia in recent years and what everyday Australians should do to protect their families from the disease.
 
“FBSF is transferred to humans through flea bites. In humans, signs of FBSF are non-specific and range from flu-like illness to severe multi-systemic disease.
 
“It was once considered rare but in 2009 the first outbreak of FBSF occurred in a family in Melbourne. Since then, retrospective testing with an improved diagnostic assay confirmed that an additional 14 clinical cases were previously misdiagnosed.
 
“Recent research now implicates dogs as the natural mammalian hosts for the causative agent, Rickettsia felis in Australia. Fleas that feed on infected dogs can remain carriers of the agent for many generations and can pass FBSF on to humans. So, if we want to prevent the spread of this disease, it’s critical that pet owners use effective flea treatment and control in their pets,” Dr Traub said.
 
There is strong evidence to suggest that FBSF has been misdiagnosed in Australia in the past because of the vague signs, which can mimic other flea- and tick- borne diseases. Dr Traub says that this suggests doctors should include relevant patient history such as exposure to domestic pets with fleas when a typical ‘spotted fever disease’ is suspected.
 
“FBSF is an emerging disease that’s transferred from animals to humans and as veterinarians it’s vital that we work with our clients to ensure they understand the importance of flea control in pets. This is the only way to minimise the risk of exposure in everyone from veterinarians to clients and their families,” Dr Traub said.
SuperZoo’s Tales from the Road: Fashion, craft foods and pet parties
 
One of the most interesting elements of SuperZoo each year is seeing what’s hot and trending - with our exhibitors and attendees, with our animal friends, and, of course, on social media, as our dynamic industry evolves, reinvents and innovates. Here in the States, the WPA Road Crew, a pair of intrepid WPA employees who crisscross the country throughout the year visiting pet retailers, picking up tips and trends along the way, are a constant source of information from the field about what’s hip and happening - from furry fashionistas and the latest dietary trends to getting the most from social media. Here we share some of the top tips and trends from the road.
 
Funky Functional Fabulous Fashion Whether it’s festive costumes, holiday-themed shirts, sweaters for special occasions such as that annual family photo, or something spooky for Halloween, more and more pet owners dress their cats and dogs up. I mean, what’s cuter than a kitty in a raincoat? Or a bulldog in booties? Besides the fun factor and cuteness overload, there is an increasing demand for clothes and accessories that are not only fashionable but also functional. We’re seeing a variety of items ‘trending,’ with dog owners stocking up on booties to protect paws during all-weather hikes, rainwear for pets who refuse to ‘meet their bathroom commitments’ in inclement weather, and more and more life vests for pets with active parents. We’re excited to see what fun yet functional fashions will grace our streets in the coming year.
 
A More Discerning Customer - Pets are an essential part of family life, and products that support their well-being and health is an area that has seen significant growth. Pet owners are spending more on quality and premium products, particularly in the food or wellness category. Consumers are becoming more discerning as the incidence of food allergies increases and specialty diets are on the rise. Many pet owners are paying close attention to the ingredients in their pets’ food and, as a result, pet retailers are catering to customers’ needs by stocking all-natural, organic, gluten-free or grain-free pet food. Pet food manufacturers, in turn, are producing more meals with all-natural ingredients, steering away from synthetics and byproducts and toward ‘real’ food.
 
Trends such as ‘organic’ and ‘all-natural’ extend beyond food and into pet toys and accessories as well. With younger generations treating their pets as integral parts of their family, the demand for high-quality products has given rise to a revolution in artisanal and craft pet products, a trend that reflects the larger societal shift away from commoditized products towards non-homogenous craft products, such as craft beer, craft coffee, artisan cheeses and eco-conscious clothing. This premium segment offers exciting opportunities for companies providing high-quality product using safe, eco-conscious and locally sourced ingredients and contents, with these factors often outweighing the cost differential for many consumers.
 
Feliz Navidog - We all love to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays, and more and more pet owners are extending these celebrations to include their pets, celebrating their pet’s birthday or adoption day. Retailers can tap into this trend by stocking up on party favors, special treats and decorations to make that special day memorable. Consider hosting a ‘Pet Paw-ty’ how-to seminar or creating a simple ‘Guide to Throwing the Perfect Pooch Party’ with a list of must-buy supplies for a successful soiree.
 
SuperZoo will return to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, July 25-27, 2017 with conference sessions July 24-26, 2017. For more information, or to register, go to http://www.superzoo.org.
 

Phase-in period for penalty rate cuts gets mixed reactions

The National Retail Association has warned struggling retailers will bear the brunt of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to implement reductions to penalty rates over a four-year transitional period.

Hundreds of thousands of Australian workers will see their Sunday penalty rates drop on July 1, with deeper cuts to come over the next three years.

Unions say they will appeal the decision, while industry and retail groups say the cuts should have gone further, and faster.

Fast food, hospitality, retail and pharmacy workers will see their Sunday penalty rates drop five percentage points on July 1.

The full cuts of 25 to 50 percentage points will then be delivered by 2019 for some workers and 2020 for others.

The Fair Work Commission on Monday released its decision into the transitional arrangements for the Sunday penalty rate cut, which was announced in February.

The commission found the existing Sunday penalty rates in the four industries “overcompensate” employees for Sunday work.

“Given this conclusion, we are not satisfied that it is appropriate to impose any further delay in the implementation of our decision,” the commission’s full bench said.

But the commission acknowledged cutting Sunday rates on July 1 meant employees would only have had four months notice.

“In these circumstances, it is appropriate that the first step in the transition be smaller than subsequent steps,” it said.

Fast food and hospitality workers will receive their full cut by 2019, and retail and pharmacy workers will have their cuts phased in until 2020.

Public holiday penalty rate will drop also 25 percentage points from July 1 for fast food, hospitality, restaurant, retail and pharmacy workers.

The Australian Industry group said the transition was “cautious but fair”, despite not being as fast as it wanted.

But hospitality union United Voice secretary Jo-anne Schofield said she would appeal against the decision.

“The system has completely failed the hundreds of thousands of Australians who give up time with their loved ones to work on weekends and public holidays,” she said.

The Business Council of Australia said the transition was “sensible”, and the penalty rate decisions should be free of political interference.

Dominique Lamb, NRA CEO, said she welcomed the reductions, but added she was disappointed with the long transition period.

“Retailers need a break and they need it now, as consumers are continuing to tighten their discretionary spending belts,” Lamb said.

“We’re seeing big names like Top Shop going into voluntary administration and Australian mainstays like Oroton staring down the barrel of significant losses,” she said. “Lululemon’s sales are down, and we’ve seen others like David Lawrence, Marcs, Pumpkin Patch, Laura Ashley, Rhodes and Beckett, Herringbone, Howards Storage World, Payless Shoes, the list goes on, end up in receivership in recent times.”

Lamb said the retail industry is struggling amid soaring operating costs and increased competition so a shorter transition to reduced penalty rates would have been a welcome relief, as it would have potentially allowed them to focus on improving customer service by having more employees on the floor.

“Australian retailers are paying some of the highest wages in the world, and it’s often not viable to even open their doors on a Sunday because they can’t even cover the wages let alone turn a profit, and that doesn’t help anyone,” she said.

“This transitional period is somewhere between the SDA’s recommendations and ours, but four years is a really long time, and adds complexity to an already complex system.

“We need to return penalty rates to a more reasonable, affordable level now, in order to kick-start the industry and allow retailers to create more jobs for Australian workers,” she said.

Meanwhile the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) welcomed the decision, but said retailers will be disappointed by the length of the transitional arrangements handed down today.

ARA executive director, Russell Zimmerman said retailers were expecting to able to ramp up employment via a quick transition to more sustainable penalty rates, though asserted the announced arrangements will hinder the immediate benefit to employment and growth within the sector.

“The Commission found that a reduction in penalty rates will allow retailers to extend staff working hours and increase employment across the board, therefore these sluggish arrangements will unnecessarily delay the creation of new retail jobs,” he said.

Zimmerman said the ARA believes the Commission’s decision will be upheld in the Federal Court.

Source: AAP & Inside Retail
 
Australian Welfare League Queensland promises to never euthanise a treatable companion animal

AWLQ needs urgent donations to help keep its promise to never euthanise a sociable, healthy or treatable companion animal, regardless of its age.
 
Since July 2016, AWLQ has successfully achieved zero euthanasia of any healthy, sociable, and treatable animal at its Gold Coast Animal Rehoming Centres. This achievement comes at a cost, as treatable programs are expensive and can involve a protracted term in care for animals.
 
Through working with its national Getting 2 Zero (G2Z) program, AWLQ is extremely proud to have also not euthanised any healthy animal from the Gold Coast since 2009.
 
AWLQ’s ultimate goal has been to extend its G2Z achievement to include treatable animals, which involves caring for any animal with a treatable condition (medical or behavioural) that is manageable or rehabilitatable.  Some diseases include Canine Parvovirus (Parvo) and Ringworm plus treating animals with genetic birth defects and critically injured animals.
 
AWLQ CEO, Denise Bradley, commented that the organisation is determined to continue its promise to save sociable, healthy or treatable companion animals.
 
“Animals in AWLQ’s care often require on-going treatment at our veterinary clinics and quarantine rooms and we also seek specialist care when necessary. Using vital donations, our expert veterinary team will administer treatment required to ensure that innocent and vulnerable animals receive the lifesaving procedures and care they deserve to survive. 
 
“It is only through the generous support of the public that we have been able to maintain our important promise of never euthanising a treatable companion animal at our Gold Coast Animal Rehoming Centres since July 2016 and at our Brisbane Animal Rehoming Centres since April 2017. We are exceptionally proud to have upheld this promise, which can come at an exorbitant expense to the organisation,” Ms Bradley continued.
 
Examples of AWLQ’s veterinary expenses plus care and treatment costs include:
 
Canine Parvovirus (Parvo): requires initial hospitalisation and treatment in an intensive care unit costing $1,100. A subsequent two-week after-care onsite rehabilitation cost is $1, 050. The total average cost per patient is $2,150.
 
Urinary and kidney conditions: cats are particularly susceptible to conditions that affect their urinary tract and kidney health. Serious conditions can require medical or even sometimes surgical intervention. Fortunately, many of these conditions can be managed with specialist veterinary foods and ongoing blood testing. The average cost per animal is $750- 1,500.
 
Critically injured animals: many dogs and cats come into AWLQ needing immediate veterinary attention for serious and life-threatening injuries - including fractured legs requiring specialist repair or amputation if the injury is too severe. Animals with extensive wounds require surgery and intensive care hospitalisation while they recover. These animals can require care for months while they recover and rehabilitate. The average cost of care and treatment per animal is $1,000-3,000.
 
Genetic birth defects: some animals are born with impaired organ function, or bones and joints that haven’t formed correctly. Some of these animals can still have a good quality of life through surgery or medication and management. AWLQ consults with specialists to ensure the needs of these animals are met. Animals remain in care for weeks or months until AWLQ is sure their management plan is working. The average cost per animal is $750-$,4000.
 
AWLQ upholds that all cats and dogs are equally deserving of its utmost efforts to preserve and enhance their lives. This includes stray and unowned animals, cross-breeds, boisterous and untrained adolescent dogs, timid cats - the sick, young and old - and those lacking the ‘cute’ factor. Only animals that are irremediably suffering, or with behavioural problems that have a poor prognosis for rehabilitation are euthanised.
The cost of cuteness
 
 The rise in popularity of certain dog breeds is causing major concerns among veterinary professionals, here and abroad.
 
At the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) Annual Conference Dr Sean Wensley, senior vice president of the British Veterinary Association, discussed the health and welfare problems associated with several dog breeds including the English bulldog, Pug and French bulldog.

 
“We used to selectively breed for behavioural traits like guarding, herding and fighting. Over time the focus became less about behaviour and more about appearance and we started to see dogs being bred with flattened faces and prominent eyes, which people find endearing.
 
“Unfortunately, these are not traits that promote good health in dogs. Instead, they cause severe health challenges including chronic respiratory disease, skin infections, eye problems, an inability to give birth naturally and spinal disease,” Dr Wensley said.
 
The rise in ownership of dogs that have been bred with exaggerated features in Australia and the UK and other parts of the world in recent years is driven in part by celebrity ownership, according to Dr Wensley. He says it’s a trend that veterinarians have become increasingly concerned about.
 
“As veterinarians, we are responsible for improving the welfare of individually affected animals through treatment; but we also have a responsibility to advocate for changes to prevent these health and welfare problems from arising in the first instance.
 
“In 2015 and 2016 respectively, Swedish and UK vets initiated petitions to improve the health and welfare of dogs bred with exaggerated features. In Australia last year, the AVA and RSPCA initiated a joint Love is Blind campaign to raise public awareness about this growing problem as well.
 
“Vets work with owners who care deeply about their dogs and we appreciate that we need to deliver our messaging about the need to breed for health over looks in a respectful and sensitive way.
 
“Some people claim that the breathing sound of a dog with a flattened nose, such as a Pug, is “normal for the breed”. As veterinary professionals, this is a notion that we strongly challenge because it is a sound that signifies breathing difficulties, which is a major health and welfare concern.
 
“Improving the health and welfare of dogs with exaggerated features is something that we all – veterinarians, pet owners, breeders and other animal industry stakeholders – need to work together to address,” Dr Wensley said.

 

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE OF 3.3% DEVASTATING FOR AUSTRALIAN RETAILERS

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) are extremely concerned the National Minimum Wage increase of 3.3% announced Tuesday 6 June 2017 by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) will stifle jobs growth within the retail sector.

 The FWC today announced the National Minimum Wage will increase to $694.90 per week, or $18.29 per hour from 1 July 2017. This is an increase of $22 per week and an increase of 59 cents per hour.

 ARA Executive Director, Russell Zimmerman said Australian retailers are already facing a complex operating environment and this increase will be extremely harmful to the growth and stability of the Australian retail industry.

 “Today’s Minimum Wage increase of 3.3% will supress the benefits achieved by the penalty rates reduction, negatively affecting increased trading hours for retailers and further delaying employment growth across the sector,” Mr Zimmerman said.

 “With the inherent weakness in today’s economic climate, along with tax increases about to hit consumers, this upsetting increase will strongly impede on employment growth within the industry.”

 Given economic uncertainties, historically low inflation along with rising costs for retailers, the ARA believe there will be real concerns for retail growth across Australia.

 The ARA believes their proposed Minimum Wage increase of 1.2% would have the best way to preserve employment within the retail sector and are disappointed that the Fair Work Commission did not take into account the weak economic trading conditions when making their decision.

 “Our members are constantly experiencing significant cost pressures through international competition and advances in technology therefore we believe this wage increase is unfavourable for all businesses operating in the retail sector,” Mr Zimmerman said.

 
RSPCA NSW remove 98 dogs and puppies from breeder near Goulburn

RSPCA NSW can confirm that inspectors and a veterinarian attended a property on Wednesday 7 June 2017 near Goulburn in response to a report detailing
concern for the welfare of dogs at the property.
 
RSPCA NSW inspectors were in the process of seizing a large number of animals for alleged offences under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. During the
Course of the assessment of the animals, their owner ultimately surrendered a total of 98 dogs and puppies to the RSPCA, including Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Pugs and more.
 
The dogs were transported to an RSPCA shelter so that they could be further assessed and receive veterinary care as required.
 
RSPCA NSW is investigating the circumstances surrounding the welfare of these dogs under the Act. Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, further details are not available at this time.
 
RSPCA NSW urges anyone with concerns about the welfare of animals to make a confidential report on 1300 CRUELTY or at

https://www.rspcansw.org.au/contact/report-a-cruelty-case
 
You can watch footage of the operation unfolding HERE

Australia will finally ban cosmetic testing on animals

Last week, a bill was put before the House of Representatives that would ban animal testing of industrial chemicals intended solely for use in cosmetics.

The proposed bill would affect a wide variety of products: “cosmetics” are legally defined as any substance used on the body, or in the mouth to change its appearance, cleanse it, perfume it or protect it. This includes soaps, shampoos, moisturiser, hair dye, perfumes and deodorants.


It’s difficult to know exactly how many animals will be affected by this ban, as companies do not advertise their use of animal testing and results are often unpublished. It’s likely to be relatively small, but this ban will both improve their lives and be an important international signal.

Cosmetic testing commonly measures the reaction of animals’ skin, eyes and respiratory tracts to high concentrations of certain chemicals. Other tests determine a product’s potential to cause foetal abnormalities, cancer or genetic mutations.

The global move away from animal testing

As a practice, it has had a turbulent history. It’s increasingly opposed by the public but many governments – including Australia’s – require animal tests to be conducted for some potentially hazardous new cosmetic ingredients.

Most prominent in this arena is the European Union. After animal testing was first banned in Germany in 1986, it was extended to the entire Union in 2004. In 2009 the ban was expanded to include ingredients, not just the finished product. Then imports came under scrutiny, as Japan and the United States are major exporters to the EU, and imports of cosmetic products tested on animals were banned in 2013.

Since that time Israel, India, Norway, New Zealand, South Korea, Turkey, Taiwan and parts of Brazil have all banned testing of cosmetics on animals. However, the Humane Society International estimates that globally around 100,000-200,000 animals are still used annually for this purpose.

The US is considering a ban, which would drastically diminish the market for any manufacturers still using animal testing. Until recently China required all cosmetics to be tested on animals, although this requirement has [now been relaxed for non-specialised cosmetics such as hair, skin and nail care products, perfumes and make-up.

Australia’s situation

Until July 2018, animal testing will still be required in Australia for some cosmetic ingredients, as it is considered by the Department of Health to be the best means of testing for potential toxicity. After this time industrial chemicals scheduled for use only in cosmetics may not be tested on animals. Chemicals used for other purposes may still be tested on animals, providing a potential loophole for manufacturers.

However, many ingredients have already been extensively tested on animals, and there is no need to repeat this. For others, alternative means of testing are being developed, such as clinical trials on humans and use of skin samples from cosmetic surgery to test penetration levels.

There have been major advances in alternative testing methods in recent years. As well as clinical studies and skin tests, we can, for example, use hen’s eggs to test if a product is likely to irritate human eyes. In future differentiated stem cells may be used as well.

Australia already has in place a code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. This requires research using animals to be licensed by an authority, usually associated with a university or government services. The committee evaluating applications has to be satisfied that the benefit to humans outweighs the harm to animals.

In the case of cosmetics, the harm to animals is often major and benefit to humans minor. However, my experience is that committees are likely to be persuaded that any government requirement for animal testing should be honoured.

The proposed bill will save animals from the suffering often associated with testing. Although Australia’s cosmetic industry is not large by international standards, it is growing rapidly, particularly in body and hair products, cosmeceuticals, sunscreen and anti-ageing products.

Once this ban passes, it will be noted internationally. This, together with the increasing number of other countries banning all animal testing of cosmetics, suggests an international accord could be possible.

Over the past decade the international World Animal Health Organisation – which primarily promotes animal disease control – has assumed responsibility for animal welfare standards worldwide. With 180 member states, it is in a good position to spearhead movement towards an international agreement. It already has a Code of Practice for Use of Animals in Research and Education, which recognises that:

Animals should only be used when ethically justified and when no other alternative methods are available.

This Code includes “harm versus benefit” ethical review, similarly to the existing Australian system, but without the government imperative to encourage or require animal testing. This could be used to deny companies the opportunity to conduct animal trials with cosmetics in countries still using them.

Eventually, it is clear, cosmetics will not be tested on animals anywhere in the world. Australia’s new regulations will be a small but valuable step towards this future.

 

World leaders in looking after marsupial mates

Do you know the difference between freezing wombat sperm and koala sperm?


Hobo, a northern hairy-nosed wombat rescued by Tina Janssen of Australian
Animals Care and Education Sanctuary


After 13 years researching wombat behaviour and reproduction, Associate Professor Stephen Johnston and his team from The University of Queensland School of Agriculture and Food Sciences are experts on the topic.

“We’ve been very successful in developing techniques to freeze wombat sperm,” Dr Johnston said. 

“The more challenging part has been pioneering techniques to detect when female wombats are ovulating (as their oestrus is difficult to detect) to artificially inseminate them at the optimal time. 

“Conversely, we have the opposite problem with koalas.

“Koala sperm doesn’t freeze well. However, researchers find it easier to detect when female koalas are in heat.”

The UQ team’s expertise in this area has resulted in 15 new common wombat and southern hairy-nosed wombat offspring, including three in the current breeding season.

It has also led to 24 full peer-reviewed journal publications and four UQ higher degree theses. 

In the near future the UQ researchers hope to transfer their depth of knowledge about wombat reproduction to more of Australia’s favourite furry friends.

“We are successful at producing reliable results in one aspect for one species; and at another in another species,” Dr Johnston said.

“It would be great to achieve similar cryopreservation success rates in koala sperm.

“We hope the skills we are developing in this wombat project will be directly applicable to the koala and other marsupial species, such as endangered wallaby species and gliders.”

Dr Johnston said UQ had strong research partnerships with organisations such as Safe Haven - AACE (Australian Animals Care and Education) sanctuary  in Mt Larcom, Central Queensland.

Two UQ students - Alyce Swinbourne (PhD) and Zilong (Jack) Du (Master of Philosophy) - have recently completed studies at the sanctuary and are writing up their findings.

“We have also conducted collaborative research that has led to improvements in southern hairy-nosed and common wombat captive husbandry, behaviour and reproduction,” Dr Johnston said.

“This has happened in partnership with organisations including AACE, Dreamworld, Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Rockhampton Zoo and The Wombat Foundation.

“With this level of academic activity and breeding success, we do regard ourselves as the premier scientific authority on wombat captive reproduction in Australia and, therefore, the world.”

Associate Professor Johnston said a new research project on endangered northern hairy-nosed wombats would concentrate on improved husbandry for wild animals in captivity.

There are only 200 estimated northern hairy-nosed wombats left in the wild, most at Epping Forest National Park near Clermont, Central Queensland, although work on trying to establish a second “insurance” population at the Richard Underwood Nature Refuge began in 2009. 

The work at Safe Haven is designed to better understand the biology of the northern hairy-nosed wombat to improve the success of the translocation process.

Other UQ academics leading the project are Dr Tamara Keeley of UQ’s School of Agriculture and Foods Sciences and Professor Clive Phillips, Director of UQ’s Centre for Welfare and Ethics, in association with Ms Tina Janssen - General Manager AACE (Australian Animals Care and Education).

 
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