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Debate over using ticks in biological warfare on flying foxes in Hendra battle


SCIENTISTS using ticks to kill bats and halt the spread of the potentially deadly Hendra virus are nervous about using biological controls afterthe disaster of cane toads, an expert says.

Paralysis ticks kill thousands of bats on the Atherton Tableland in far north Queensland every breeding season.

Townsville expert Dr Lee Skerratt said research had found the paralysis tick (ixodes holocyclus) was unlikely to meet strict criteria of abiological agent against plague proportions of spectacled flying foxes. But, inexplicably, such a high death rate has not been found in other heavily populated flying fox camps.


"Some scientists do cringe at the mention of biological controls," said Dr Skerratt, a parasitologist who also works on toads. "But they should not. Some methods have been very effective. There have been some success stories."

He said rabbits would be in plague proportions without myxomatosis, while the use of cactoblastis against prickly pear was a classic example of a useful biological control agent.

Dr Skerratt said it was believed the bats came into contact with ground-dwelling ticks when they moved lower to feed on wild tobacco in the state's far north.

Tolga Bat Hospital's Jenny Maclean, who cares for more than 50 orphaned flying foxes every year, said a 12-gauge shotgun would be a preferred control method over tick paralysis deaths.

"Here on the Tableland, thousands of bats die every tick season between September and January, peaking in November.

"It is a native tick and the same one that kills lots of dogs and cats along the east coast.

"It is a horrible death, the little animals gasp themselves to death, their breathing muscles and heart and lungs get paralysed, and it takes days for them to die. You'd be better off shooting them and make sure you kill them.

"It is a long-winded way of going about giving them a horrible death."

The bat lover said she was against any culling option.

"Flying foxes are intelligent, smart animals that look you in the eye and do marvels for the environment in seed dispersal.

"Because they are such a vilified animal, I feel someone has to stand up for them."

She said the Tableland was a hot-spot for tick paralysis but it remained unknown why the parasites did not have such a kill rate farther south.

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Comments

Marcus Posted at 12:41 AM June 04, 2012

Rabbit and the prickly pear were introduced. Flying foxes were here before us. To treat them as feral is just wrong.

Bill of FNQ Posted at 6:03 AM June 04, 2012
Before the scientists start to worry about native animals how about dealing with the real problem ferals such as horses, camels, donkeys, pigs, foxes, cats and any number of feral weeds. Not to mention carp and telapia etc in our waterways. The odd horse dying from hendra is nothing compared to the damage done by these ferals.

Kiki Anders of Brisbane Posted at 7:01 AM June 04, 2012
I agree, flying foxes are cute and if culling is necessary then it has to be the most expedient and humane way. However, every time I have to scrub their excrement off my deck or garage door, I wonder if I will contract a virus. Surely identifying why the FF contract and carry this virus would be better than just wiping them out.

matt Posted at 7:10 AM June 04, 2012
Bats are a native Australian species. Leave them alone.

Peter M of Australia Posted at 7:18 AM June 04, 2012
I object to the use of ticks as a biological agent as they are the primary carrier of Lyme disease in the Northern Hemisphere. Australian cases are now being reported which test positive using American testing labs such as Igenex. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are struggling with chronic tick borne Lyme infections and inadequate treatment guidelines. The Australian medical establishment doesn't recognise the disease exists here or for the better part know how to treat a disease which is already present in this country, the spread of which may be hastened by allowing bats to disseminate ticks which in turn infect rats, mice, cats, dogs and their human owners. Given that the Cane Toad and Prickly Pear were such successes why would we even consider promoting the spread of tick borne pathogens that cause chronic human disease?

Patrick Bennet of Brisbane Posted at 7:30 AM June 04, 2012
They wont be happy until they wipe out all our wildlife, and when they do, the Courier Mail needs to accept responsibility for its contribution by printing this sort of rubbish, and feeding the hysteria out there.

Chris Hay of Melbourne Posted at 7:32 AM June 04, 2012
Unbelievable!!!! Using Paralysis Ticks to control bats is a ridiculous, hair-brained idea. No doubt from the same school of thinking that brought us Cane Toads. I would ask these people to think for a minute and see if they can work out why this is a shockingly bad idea.

Fay of Beenleigh Posted at 7:37 AM June 04, 2012
I too would hesitate to use this type of control against bats given that ticks also harm humans and other animals as well. They thrive in all types of environments. the Atherton Tableland is a unique environment and probably has some sort of other control to stop it moving down to the lowlands otherwise it would have done so on its own without human intervention.

Steve of Brisbane Posted at 9:09 AM June 04, 2012
Horses kill people with Hendra, not flying foxes. Horses are an introduced species, flying foxes are native. Horses are merely beasts of burden (or vehicles for gambling), flying foxes aid with plant reproduction through pollination. You want to save humans from Hendra, kill the horses or find a cure.

Mike Posted at 9:22 AM June 04, 2012
The cane toad is an introduced exotic pest. The flying fox is a PROTECTED NATIVE species. The bats were here first. We are invading THEIR territory.

Val Dworzak of Capricorn Coast Posted at 9:23 AM June 04, 2012
Dear God - this is an horrendous idea! Who in their right mind would even think of using Ticks to this end. Just think of the animals that would suffer because of this idea - not just flying fox - this would create a problem far, far worse than the cane toad! I am appalled that anyone in their right mind would come up with an idea like this!

bella Posted at 9:48 AM June 04, 2012
The bats were here before we where...live with it! Perhaps if various regulations had banned the building of houses etc in known bat habitats the situation would have been avoided in the first place. As for using ticks.....just look back at the cane toad, prickly pear, lantana etc etc etc Let's leave nature alone.

Rooster of Queensland Posted at 10:00 AM June 04, 2012
Read the book 'How To Kill A Country' with an open mind, then question if this is a problem with a natural origin or whether another agency is the cause. Biosecurity in this country has been compromised although no government will admit it.

AJ of Brisbane Posted at 10:58 AM June 04, 2012
So we have designs on destroying natures beauty just some creature known as the human race can have their way. My suggestion would be to eradicate the human race and leave the planet to the wild. Honestly, it would be the best thing for the planet that we are destroying bit by bit.

Annette of Brisbane Posted at 11:09 AM June 04, 2012
Stan Pedlar - FYI Jenny Maclean does live amongst the bats and their droppings quite happily, as would the other Jenny Mcleans of the world"! Flying foxes are wonderful animals and we cannot continue to hunt them from place to place. To suggest using ticks to control any species is horrendous and would cause a slow death by starvation or maggot infestation of not only said bat but also its dependent young. Ludicrous idea!

Jed of brisbane Posted at 11:50 AM June 04, 2012
oh dear god! Tics are more dangerous to humans than hendra currently is. Cant we just shoot the horses and get on with our lives?

Brad Posted at 11:53 AM June 04, 2012
@Stan Pedler of West Prairie, they are not living with you. You are living with them in their territory. The bats were here first, for about 8 million years before humans.

Nutters of Planet Queensland Posted at 12:15 PM June 04, 2012
The only thing that surprises me is that in the last 50 years no genetist released some deadly virus to depoplutate the most aggressive, polluting and environmentally incompatible of all of the species: the human species. However, sooner or later it will happen. Just matter of time. I t will also be the only method available to prevent WW3.

Survivor of of Oz Posted at 12:46 PM June 04, 2012
Reckon I'd prefer to take my chances with the Hendra virus than with paralysis ticks. Out of all the horses resident in Australia at any given time, only a very few have been infected with Hendra virus, and they are mainly fine bred animals. More research and questions needed.

These people are supposed to be scientists? Posted at 1:04 PM June 04, 2012
So these Paralysis Ticks are going to know only to attack flying foxes on the odd occasion they might come in contact with one??? What a stupid idea. Introduce more of these ground dwelling parasites to try to kill a tree dwelling creature... Sounds like the Cane toad idiosy all over again. I say just leave the bats alone, for all horse owners to put their horses food and water under cover to protect it from droppings or MOVE SOMEWHERE ELSE if you must have horses.

LB of Hendra, Brisbane Posted at 1:26 PM June 04, 2012
Hi everyone. I am an animal lover and come from a very well known racing family. Whilst I understand that not everyone likes the industy, horses are beautiful animals with wonderful personalities. I just want to say, that as an animal lover in general,I shudder at the thought of ANY animal being put to a slow death - whether it be a bat, a dog, a horse or anything else for that matter. It's just inhumane. I think more research is needed before we go down this path...

blind freddie of Iluka Posted at 2:01 PM June 04, 2012
This has to be a joke? Right? At a time when Ozzies are looking at increasing their carbon reducing practices, which means looking to improve the welfare of native forests, you're proposing killing off the one group of animals that protects future forests ... and as for plague proportions- what an unsubstantiated lie. It has to be a joke- no sane person would make these statements...

Sickened Posted at 2:35 PM June 04, 2012
The thought of using paralysis ticks to cull flying foxes would be almost as abhorrent a practise as was the culling of camels in Australia by shooting them with rusty nails. It happened! My sympathy is expansive: sympathy for those affected, or with the potential to be affected, by Hendra virus; and sympathy for the flying foxes who, through no fault of their own, are no considered pests to be exterminated in their country of origin.

Scott of Camira Posted at 3:40 PM June 04, 2012
@ Get Rid of The Bats, maybe you should research what you write before you post it, FLIES were not here first, flies were introduced when the english came here with their horses... oh wait, horses again, they seem to be a common factor in problems hey?this is the most disgusting thing I have read, and whoever has thought of this (probably some over paid government crony) should have their neck rung.

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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: Debate over using ticks in biological warfare on flying foxes in Hendra battle
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