Wildlife diseases in New Zealand: recent findings and future challenges

Wildlife diseases in New Zealand: recent findings and future challenges
Peer reviewed


Our knowledge of diseases in New Zealand wildlife has expanded rapidly in the last two decades. Much of this is due to a greater awareness of disease as a cause of mortality in some of our highly threatened species or as a limiting factor to the successful captive rearing of intensely managed species such as hihi (Notiomystis cincta), kiwi (Apteryx spp.) and kakapo (Strigops habroptilus). An important factor contributing to the increase of our knowledge has been the development of new diagnostic techniques in the fields of molecular biology and immunohistochemistry, particularly for the diagnosis and epidemiology of viral and protozoan diseases. Although New Zealand remains free of serious exotic viruses there has been much work on understanding the taxonomy and epidemiology of local strains of avipox virus and circoviruses. Bacterial diseases such as salmonellosis, erysipelas and tuberculosis have also been closely investigated in wildlife and opportunist mycotic infections such as aspergillosis remain a major problem in many species. Nutritional diseases such as hyperplastic goitre due to iodine deficiency and metabolic bone disease due to Ca:P imbalance have made significant impacts on some captive reared birds, while lead poisoning is a problem in some localities. The increasing use of wildlife translocations to avoid the extinction of threatened species has highlighted the need for improved methods to assess the disease risks inherent in these operations and other intensive conservation management strategies such as creching young animals. We have also become more aware of the likelihood of inbreeding suppression as populations of many species decrease or pass through a genetic bottleneck. Climate change and habitat loss, however, remain the greatest threats to biodiversity and wildlife health worldwide. Temperature changes will affect our wildlife habitats, alter the distribution of disease vectors and wildlife predators, or directly harm threatened species in vulnerable localities.

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