Jem the kākāpō

Image: Jake Osborne | DOC

Introduction

Aspergillosis is a fungal infection threatening kākāpō on Codfish Island / Whenua Hou.

Highlights

Update: 14 October 2019

Two juvenile kākāpō from the 2019 cohort were found dead on Whenua Hou in September. Post mortem examinations confirmed aspergillosis as the cause of death in both cases. This follows seven previous deaths from aspergillosis between April and June this year.

In response to these deaths, a further 6 juveniles (2019 cohort) considered at high risk have been sent for veterinary assessment. All were found to be clear of the disease and will be returning to Whenua Hou. Additional monitoring and health screening processes are underway on Whenua Hou to inform whether any further kākāpō need to be sent for veterinary assessment.

Four kākāpō remain in veterinary care following diagnosis earlier in the year. These individuals have been slow to respond to treatment, and are likely to remain in care for some time yet.

Donate to the aspergillosis fund

It's clear that people share our concerns, and want to help through donations. To ensure donations are reaching the right place, we've set up an aspergillosis fund.

Aspergillosis is having a devastating impact on kākāpō.

Detecting and treating birds with this potentially fatal disease is extremely difficult. Birds are flown by helicopter to mainland New Zealand for CT scans, and if affected face several months or more of intensive treatment.

There's a lot of work involved in caring for the affected kākāpō, and managing the kākāpō population to minimise the outbreak.

While DOC funding continues for Kākāpō Recovery, additional funds through donations are gratefully accepted.

Donations allow people to contribute in a meaningful way to help us combat this season's aspergillosis threat.

Managing the outbreak

On top of the usual work of looking after kākāpō through a busy breeding season, there's a massive effort to care for affected birds and reduce the risk to the kākāpō population.

All birds have to be screened to see if they are affected. This involves catching the birds, and running diagnostics such as weight, physical examination and blood sample collection, beginning with birds prioritised as most at risk. This disease surveillance work to monitor the health of the population is ongoing.

The highest risk birds are flown to the mainland for further testing including CT scans. The affected birds are receiving veterinary treatment. 

All remaining chicks in nests have been removed for hand rearing to prevent further exposure to high spore loading.

Further diagnostic samples are being taken to measure the spore levels in nests, and to detect possible underlying viral or fungal infections. 

More about aspergillosis

Aspergillosis is an infection caused by a type of fungus. It can affect people as well as birds and other animals.

Aspergillosis spores are abundant in the environment and are typically inhaled. The spores usually only cause disease if individuals have reduced immunity and/or if there is an increased concentration of spores in the environment. 

Currently, we think the cause of this outbreak is the significant spore loading in nests on Whenua Hou this season, coupled with possible nest stress leading to infection. We're investigating other potential causes of low immunity.

Kākāpō Recovery is working with Auckland Zoo, Massey Wildbase, Dunedin Wildlife Hospital and Wellington Zoo to understand the underlying cause and to prevent as many future cases as possible.

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