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Hendra virus study using GPS to track bats


Hendra virus study using GPS to track bats
Laura Hegarty, Ben Lemberg, Charmaine Kane and Kirsty Nancarrow.

Updated August 25, 2011 11:10:52

Researchers are attaching GPS trackers to flying foxes in south-east Queensland to learn more about hendra virus.

Another horse died from hendra virus in the Currumbin Valley in the Gold Coast hinterland on Tuesday.

Biosecurity Queensland says there have been no further signs of hendra virus on the Currumbin Creek Road property.

Chief vet Dr Rick Symons says 24 horses and a dog at the property are being tested.

He says authorities are tracing movements on the property and analysing data about all confirmed cases of hendra virus in Queensland this year.

"We know that it comes from a bat to a horse," he said.

"But there are obviously other factors that are occurring both in the bat, potentially in the horse, and maybe in the pasture and the weather.

"What we are doing is gathering data to see what other risk factors that may be around to explain why we get, as we have at the moment, an increase in cases."
Bat injured

The Australian Bat Clinic on the Gold Coast has treated one flying fox that was hit with a golf club after hendra virus was confirmed at the Currumbin Valley property.

Dr Symons says hurting flying foxes is unacceptable.

"We know that certainly reproductive stress and nutritional stress increases the likelihood that they'll shed hendra virus," he said.

"We know that causing them suffering will also likely increase stress and increase the shedding of hendra virus."

The Gold Coast City Council wants all colonies tested for hendra virus but Dr Symons says that is not the answer. '

Dr Symons says testing flying fox colonies for hendra virus will not stop the disease from spreading.

"If we test a colony today and it is negative, it doesn't mean that tomorrow it won't be positive," he said.

"Similarly if we test a colony that is positive, it doesn't mean it will be the same level tomorrow."

Biosecurity Queensland spokesman Dr Hume Fields says 10 trackers will be used to monitor the movements of bats to see if any link can be found between the animals' locations and hendra-affected areas.

Dr Fields says the new technology could make it a lot easier to understand the way the virus spreads.

"The units are so small, they're about half the size of a matchbox," he said.

"We can simply just glue them onto the back of the animals and just log every five or 10 minutes as they fly around what their locations are."

Dr Fields says researchers hope to understand which trees attract the bats and whether there is any connection between their movements and hendra virus-affected areas.

"The main thing we're going to learn is just how the bats move across the landscape," he said.

"What kind of trees they're going after, being able to identify whether they actually have some potential interaction on properties where there are horses."
Gayndah plague

The North Burnett Regional Council says the GPS tracking devices would help decide how to move the bats at Gayndah, south-west of Bundaberg, in southern Queensland.

About 260,000 bats populate the riverbank that runs through Gayndah and authorities will move the animals once the colony's young are old enough to fly.

North Burnett Council CEO Mark Pitt says he hopes Gayndah is first in line to get the technology.

"The current colonies of bats that we have in Gayndah at the moment are acting in quite peculiar ways and even just being here at this time of year and where they're roosting," he said.

"They're roosting low to the ground, they're doing things that the bats don't commonly do apparently, so again anything that helps us with understanding why they're doing it will be a good thing."

A hendra virus information session will be held at the Gayndah Memorial Hall tonight at 6:30pm (AEST).
Quarantine lifted

Meanwhile, the owner of a far north Queensland property affected by hendra virus says pathology processing needs to be sped up.

Authorities lifted the quarantine over the Kuranda trail riding property last night, more than six weeks after a horse died from the virus.

Biosecurity officers will take down quarantine signs this morning.

Property owner Michael Trout says Biosecurity Queensland has been extremely helpful throughout the quarantine process but improvements could be made.

"The pathology side of things, I don't know if that's private enterprise or what, but that leaves a lot to be desired," he said.

"I do appreciate they've been in a lot of pressure with a lot of testing, but the commercial reality of getting us back into business is a top priority.

"I would have thought that we would have been given some priority a number of days ago."

Mr Trout says the quarantine was lifted last night after authorities were satisfied with the final round of test results for 36 horses.

"I just hope it's once in a lifetime - it has just been harrowing," he said.

"At the start, the anxiety and so forth of your staff and horses and then just staying alive in business this time of year, it has been incredibly tough."

Eleven horses have died with hendra virus in Queensland this year.
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Megabats and Microbats: Hendra virus study using GPS to track bats
Hendra virus study using GPS to track bats
Megabats and Microbats
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