Epidemiologic Aspects of Health Management of Gilbert’s Potoroo (Potorous gilbertii), Australia’s Most Endangered Mammal
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2006
Kristin Warren1, BSc, BVMS (Hons), PhD; Rebecca Vaughan1,2, BSc, BVMS; Tony Friend3, BSc (Hons), PhD; Nicky Buller4, BSc, PhD; Cree Monaghan2, BSc, BVMS (Hons), MSc; Stan Fenwick1, BVMS, MSc, PhD; Ian Robertson1, BVSc, MACVS, PhD
1Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA, Australia; 2Perth Zoo, South Perth, WA, Australia; 3Department of Conservation and Land Management, Albany, WA, Australia; 4Department of Agriculture, South Perth, WA, Australia


The Gilbert’s potoroo (Potorous gilbertii) is a small macropod presumed to be extinct since 1870, until a small population was rediscovered in 1994. This remnant population is estimated to be less than 40 individuals and is restricted to an 1800-ha protected region within Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve in Western Australia.2 Shortly after its rediscovery, eight potoroos were captured to establish a captive breeding colony.4 A 3-year health monitoring program began in February 2005, in order to determine the prevalence of specific diseases in the wild and captive populations and correlate the effects of identified diseases on reproductive success and survivorship.

Twenty-seven potoroos (22 wild and 5 captive) have been sampled to date, and infections with potentially pathogenic micro-organisms have been found. Conjunctival, urogenital, and/or pharyngeal swabs were positive on Chlamydiales PCR testing result for 12 of 19 potoroos (63%).1,3 The pathologic significance of these Chlamydiales organisms remains unknown.1 A Treponema-like spirochete was isolated from the reproductive tracts of seven males and seven females. Current studies aim to determine whether this organism is associated with balanoposthitis, which has been found to affect all male potoroos, both in captivity and in the wild. There has been no serologic evidence of toxoplasmosis or cryptococcosis. Strongyles and other nematodes have been the most frequently identified gastrointestinal parasites based on fecal parasitologic examination.

The health monitoring study that has been incorporated within the Gilbert’s potoroo recovery program highlights the importance of disease investigation and veterinary involvement in endangered species recovery programs.

Literature Cited

1.  Bodetti, T.J., K. Viggers, K. Warren, R. Swan, S. Conaghty, C. Sims, and P. Timms. 2003. Wide range of Chlamydiales types detected in native Australian mammals. Vet. Microbiol. 96:177–187.

2.  Courtenay, J., and T. Friend. 2002. Draft Gilbert’s Potoroo Recovery Plan. 2002–2007, Department of Conservation and Land Management, Western Australia.

3.  Markey, B., C. Wan, R. Vaughan, L. Woolford, K. Warren, T. Friend, and P. Timms. 2005. Quantitative detection of chlamydial infections in animals using a real time polymerase chain reaction assay based on a conserved region of the 16SrRNA gene. Third Workshop of COST Action 855 Diagnosis and Pathogenesis of Animal Chlamydioses, Siena, September 22–23, 2005.

4.  Start, A.N., and A.A. Burbidge. 1995. Interim Recovery Plan for Gilbert’s Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus gilbertii). Unpublished data report. Department of Conservation and Land Management, Perth.


Speaker Information
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Kristin Warren, BSc, BVMS (Hons), PhD
Murdoch University
Murdoch, WA, Australia

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