Jem the kākāpō

Image: Jake Osborne | DOC

Introduction

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

Highlights

Update: 5 August 2019

No further deaths have occurred following the Aspergillosis outbreak that has claimed the lives of seven kākāpō since 18 April 2019.

The intensive health screening programme has been completed, with high risk birds tested on both Whenua Hou and Anchor islands. All birds sent for testing on the mainland that were found to be clear of the disease have been returned to Whenua Hou.

Currently 13 birds are in veterinary care receiving intensive treatment for the condition. Recent tests have shown that symptoms have resolved in six of the chicks. These birds will be monitored closely for several weeks as they come off medication. All being well, we expect they will return to Whenua Hou in the near future. The remaining seven birds have uncertain outcomes, and will require ongoing treatment.

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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