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Bovine Tb in southern Ureweras threat to farms

MEDIA RELEASE


Bovine Tb in the southern Urewera ranges a threat to Bay of Plenty and Gisborne farms

For immediate release: Monday 6 March 2006

An animal disease with the potential to affect New Zealand’s overseas meat trade has been found in Whirinaki Forest Park, posing the risk of the infection spreading more widely.

Environment Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and the Department of Conservation are planning a major pest control operation to eradicate pockets of infection in a Bovine Tuberculosis front straddling the regional border. They will do the work on behalf of the Animal Health Board, which is responsible for Bovine Tb management in New Zealand.

Possums are the main carriers, or vectors, of Bovine Tb in New Zealand. It is feared that, if they are not controlled quickly, they will spread the disease through Te Urewera National Park and infect domestic cattle or deer in adjacent farmland. This could pose a threat to farms in the Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay.

Vector manager Greg Corbett of Environment Bay of Plenty says the size and remoteness of the area make ground control impractical in most parts of it. Because of this, the proposal is to carry out aerial application of 1080 baits over an area of about 55,000ha. “It will allow us to immediately and drastically reduce possum numbers,” he says. It will also have conservation benefits, such as more native birdlife.

Greg Corbett says the baiting operation will be subject to stringent safety precautions and will require the consent of regional medical officers of health, landowners and the Department of Conservation. He expects the operation will begin at some stage this winter.

Bovine Tb is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria called Mycobacterium bovis. It primarily affects cattle and deer. The Animal Health Board’s aim is for New Zealand to be recognised as officially free from Bovine Tb by 2013, in order to maintain access to high value overseas markets for meat and dairy exports.

Hawke’s Bay has battled outbreaks of Bovine Tb infection for the past five years, with a number of infected herds along the Mohaka River. In 2004, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council launched a major vector control operation to create a buffer zone around the park edge near Waikaremoana. Since the mid-1990s, Environment Bay of Plenty has dealt with sporadic Tb outbreaks in cattle and deer herds east of Taupo.

The Gisborne district has long been regarded as Bovine Tb-free. District conservator Trevor Freeman says the Gisborne District Council is anxious to retain that status. Any high populations of possums within the district are being controlled through a modest ongoing pest management programme. “It would have significant financial implications for the pastoral farming sector and pest management programmes if Bovine Tb should appear in local pest populations,” he adds. “So it is most encouraging to see the concerted effort being made in Hawke’s Bay and the Bay of Plenty to halt the progression of infected animals towards our district.”

Late last year, the discovery of two Bovine Tb-infected deer in Whirinaki Forest Park validated earlier findings in the southern Urewera area. Stuart Hutchings, the Animal Health Board’s District Disease Control Manager for the Bay of Plenty, says that repeated surveys of wildlife have produced strong evidence of a Bovine Tb front through the upper Whirinaki and Te Hoe Rivers area. “It is important to act quickly to reduce the numbers of possums to a low level in order to prevent continued maintenance of the disease within the population and the risk of Tb spread further north,” he says.

BovineTb.jpg: The proposed pest control operation would cover a 55,000ha area within Whirinaki Forest Park and Te Urewera National Park.

ENDS


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