Association for Respectful Co-Habitation
Promoting and Practising Kindness and Respect for All Animals and the Natural Environment
Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 42 
A Mysterious Disease (part II)
The Corpses Remain Uneaten
Photo: Ray Mjadwesch
The disease that broke out in far western New South Wales over a two-to-three week period in September/October 2016 and which subsequently has been blamed for the deaths of the ‘millions’ of kangaroos who seem to have gone missing was indeed mysterious, but perhaps not quite in the manner the recent article in the Australian (28th December 2017) makes out.
‘It was predictable,’ Dr Greg Curran told the ABC shortly after the 2016 outbreak. Dr Curran said he ‘knew kangaroo deaths were imminent, as weather conditions were similar to those that had accompanied mass mystery die-offs in previous seasons, when it was estimated hundreds of thousands of roos [died] within two-week periods.’
‘Predictable’? ‘knew kangaroo deaths were imminent’? ‘weather conditions were similar’? ‘die-offs in previous seasons’?
There is, in other words, a mysterious disease that from time to time breaks out in south-western Queensland and north-western New South Wales, killing large numbers of kangaroos.
The agent of the disease might not be clear – a virus? a fungus? a mosquito? – and the pathology of the disease not as yet understood, but this mysterious disease has been around for some time. The first recorded outbreak appears to have been 1961, but one wonders what one might find if one did some dedicated research into private documents and newspaper reports before that: there may have been outbreaks going back millions of years. And since 1961, according to a fine summary provided by Lynda Staker in her monumental Macropod Husbandry, Healthcare and Medicinals (443-43), there have been outbreaks in 1986/87, 1990, 1997/98, 1999, 2002, 2010. Now there has been an outbreak in 2016.
The disease is called post flood die-off, and appears to occur approximately two years after a flood or significant/comparable rain event. It would seem – one of various possibilities – that some agent, ‘released’ by floods/heavy rain (a mosquito?), who has at that stage an advent-period of approximately two weeks, bites/infects roos, but that the fatal effects (/next stage of the agent’s life cycle?) take two years to manifest.
The disease takes only a few days to run its final course, i.e. from manifestation to death. The victims seem well-fed and in good condition (it is not a matter of malnutrition), but become disorientated, can behave almost as if blind. One of the strangest aspects of the phenomenon is that other animals who would normally feed on kangaroo carcases – wedge-tailed eagles, crows, feral pigs, etc. – leave these carcases well alone.
But enough. Not quite the end to this intriguing mystery – there’s still the issue of why such news should be released at this time, and why such massive and largely unsupported claims should be made concerning it – but the end to this post.
Watch for Mysterious Disease Part 3.