Virus threatens NZ parrots
A potentially fatal disease that attacks parrots' immune systems is threatening two native species in New Zealand.
The beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) was first discovered in Australia and has since spread throughout the world, largely due to legal and illegal pet trading.
A collaborative study on the virus by the University of Canterbury started after the disease was found in New Zealand's red-fronted parakeets on Little Barrier Island in 2008.
Researchers have since detected the disease in invasive Australian Eastern rosella in Auckland and yellow-crowned parakeets in Fiordland.
The virus' strains in the South and North Islands are different.
Canterbury University's Dr Arvind Varsani, one of the co-ordinators of the study, said the discovery of the virus in New Zealand was ''scary'' given the Department of Conservation's translocation plans for birds.
''A lot of this information is going to be very important for DOC. Now they know at least that a zone is infected. We do not want to lose our birds to that zone.''
Dr Varsani said researchers have no idea if there were any more strains of the disease in New Zealand.
''The more sampling we do, the more information we'll get.''
More than 780 birds of seven threatened and endangered New Zealand parrot species were tested for the virus for the study - the first comprehensive attempt to systematically screen the birds.
Dr Varsani said it was a huge task to sample each and every bird, but researchers would continue to work hard to screen more.
BFDV easily moves across hosts, weakening the immune system. A lot of birds succumb to infections, and in severe cases they can lose their feathers and have deformities.
In Australia, the base infection rate was 10 per cent and the bird population was still in check. However, in Africa it was 50 per cent for some species.
''That's when conservation management needs to come in. I think here at the moment, we are pretty much at an early stage to start to make strategic plans,'' Dr Varsani said.
Researchers from Massey University, University of Auckland, DOC and Auckland Zoo also participated in the study.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is our atmosphere heating up too fast?Related story: (See story)