Honours for Harris: a vet’s story

James Harris and PhilJames Harris knew he wanted to be a vet when he was six years-old, and growing up in the US as a British evacuee during World War ll. He never deviated from this youthful decision, but neither did it stop him from also gaining a degree in anthropology, becoming a professionally trained musician, and pursuing a serious interest in ceramics, along the way to studying veterinary science. He was determined to not be bored.

Harris’s services to the veterinary profession and animal welfare were recognised in this year’s Australia Day awards with a Medal of the Order of Australia, despite having lived and worked in Tasmania for just 11 of the 55 years he has been in practice. Not that he regards veterinary practice as work, since work is an ‘unpleasant activity’, and whatever Harris does he enjoys because for him ‘life is fun’.

His affinity with animals was apparent very early. Whether it was learning to ride horses while still a toddler, being a magnet for stray dogs while walking with his Scottish nanny, or during his regular Sunday visits to Regent Park Zoo, it was soon clear he shared a special relationship with animals. A perk of his parents’ pre-war membership to the London Zoological Society allowed him to befriend any of the animals housed at Regent Park Zoo, but rather than developing a relationship with just one relatively placid wild animal, Harris instead divided his Sunday afternoons between a tiger, a wolf, and a pack of dingoes. Continue reading Honours for Harris: a vet’s story

Preventing cane toad progression

The results of research that offers a solution for halting the relentless march of cane toads (Rhinella marina) across northern Australia was published recently in December’s issue of the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology.

An international team led by Ben Phillips from James Cook University’s School of Marine and Tropical Biology, and a lead author of the study, has shown that the removal of artificial waterbodies in key locations along the narrow Kimberley-Pilbara corridor, a region currently threatened by the spread of cane toads, would be an effective measure in preventing the amphibians establishing satellite populations.

Graziers installed the artificial waterbodies, which serve as important breeding sites and dry-season refuges for toads in a region where they would otherwise struggle to survive, but in simulated studies researchers comprehensively concluded cane toads would be unable to colonise the Pilbara if artificial waterbodies were made unavailable to them.

“By removing around 100 artificial waterbodies, toads can be prevented from occupying 268,000 square kilometres of their potential range in Western Australia, which is an area larger than Great Britain,” Phillips said.

The cane toad invasion has continued unabated despite significant efforts made by numerous community groups to try and limit its advance, but based on comparisons with scientifically accredited studies of plant invasions, the research team showed that: “targeting satellite populations can be an efficient strategy to impede rates of spread.” Continue reading Preventing cane toad progression

Crisis? What Crisis?


Image: Thomas Lersch

Although their behaviour may not equate with some of the clichéd lifestyle changes associated with human midlife crises, a paper published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests emotional highs and lows may also be an inherent characteristic in chimpanzees and orang-utans.

An international team that included scientists, zookeepers, and wildlife carers from the United States, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and the UK, used a four-item questionnaire, based on human subjective wellbeing measures but modified for use in non-human primates, to assess the level of contentment in 508 animals across a broad age range, and split into three groups. It was a decision made in a “burst of madness, since no study had ever been attempted,” according to economist Andrew Oswald from the UK’s University of Warwick, and a co-author of the report. He said the team was “just stunned” when results indicated the primates from all three groups showed evidence of experiencing a slump in wellbeing during their middle years.

The questions included measuring each animal’s moods, their enjoyment of social interaction, and success at achieving goals. Continue reading Crisis? What Crisis?

The good oil

A tea tree plantation in Coraki, NSW

While researching the development of new products and markets for Australia’s tea tree oil industry, scientists from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation found tea tree oil is an effective and environmentally benign treatment for fly strike and lice infestations in sheep.

Already widely recognised for its medicinal properties and use as an insect repellent for humans, the study’s results suggest tea tree oil derived from Melaleuca alternifolia could also prove to be a commercially successful veterinary treatment for use in the sheep and wool industries.

In the team’s laboratory trials, solutions containing one per cent tea tree oil consistently resulted in a 100 per cent kill rate of first stage maggots. There was also strong evidence to suggest the solution repelled adult flies, with no eggs being laid on the wool for up to six weeks.

Lead researcher Peter James from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation said the results were particularly encouraging.

“Our lab trials showed that a one per cent tea tree oil formulation reliably produced a 100 per cent kill rate of lice and lice eggs, but we were very pleased to see that our pen trials generated the same results,” James said.

Shorn sheep used in the trials were inspected at two, six, 12, and 20 weeks after being dipped in the one per cent tea tree oil solution, but at no point were lice found in the wool. Animals with longer wool were also tested, using both one per cent, and two per cent solutions. In all cases results showed a significant reduction in louse numbers and wool damage in comparison to controls at two weeks after treatment. Continue reading The good oil

OJD on the rise in Tasmania

Picture: Peter Shanks.Spring is the time of year when many rural properties and paddocks in Tasmania are filled with the sight of newborn and frolicking lambs bleating for their mothers among expanding flocks, but in the aftermath of two wet winters Bruce Jackson, senior vet at the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, recently issued a warning to the state’s farmers and vets confirming the incidence of Ovine Johnes Disease is on the rise.

From Tasmania’s first diagnosed case in 2001, OJD has continued to spread across the state, but reports have suggested there has been a significantly greater prevalence of the disease during the past five years. It is estimated approximately seven per cent of flocks are now affected, although the actual figure could be as high as 35 per cent according to Jackson, who said an important factor in disease control is open and honest communication between neighbouring producers, as well as a proactive vaccination program. Continue reading OJD on the rise in Tasmania