The Wildlife Health and Conservation Clinic has a strong research program which is focused on emerging diseases and their impact on wildlife, conservation of iconic Australian species, and improving the health of exotic pet animals.

Representative Research Fields

Parasites in Native Australian Species
Green and Golden Bell Frog

Green and Golden Bell Frogs Copright Lance Jurd

Singled-celled parasites (Myxosporidia) of Frogs.

This work by Ashlie Hartigan PhD student in collaboration with Jan Šlapeta and investigators in the Czech Republic and the Honolulu Zoo has resulted in the discovery of two new parasites impacting native Australian frogs (Cystodiscus axonis and Cystodiscus australis). This work has shown that these parasites are emerging and that they a highly pathogenic in the tadpoles and adult frogs of several endangered species including the recently rediscovered yellow-spotted bell frog. This work has resulted in 5 publications (See Recent Publications)

Other Research in the Field of Wildlife Parasites

  1. Blood parasites (Heamatozoa) of Australian Birds.
    This work has shown that several blood parasites causing disease in Australian birds are in fact introduced to Australia.
  2. Coccidia in Echidnas.
    Our honours student Johd Dedenham has recently published a paper on the natural occurrence of coccidia in wild echidnas, the prevalence of coccidian infection in captive echidnas, and response to treatment.
  3. Trichomonas in Snakes.
    The veterinary staff of the Avian Reptile and Exotic Pet Hospital with Dr. Jan Šalpeta have documented upper respiratory and eye disease caused by newly described single-celled parasites (Trichomonas) in pythons.
  4. Sarcocystis in Barn Owls.
    The veterinary staff of the Avian Reptile and Exotic Pet Hospital with Dr. Jan Šalpeta have genetically characterized for the first time a parasite (Sarcocystis) in barn owls. This work was supported by the Australian Wildlife Health Network and WIRES.
  5. Toxoplasmosis in Wombats.
    The veterinary staff at the Avian Reptile and Exotic Pet Hospital have investigated an outbreak of neurological disease in Wombats in the Kangaroo Valley and found that it was caused by Toxoplasmosis.

Reptile Anaesthesia and Immobilization


Humane and Safe Immobilization of Australian Crocodiles.

Dr. Annabelle Olssen (PhD Student) with the support of Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, Queensland Parks and Wildlife and spent the past 4 years testing a range of immobilizing agents on Estuarine and Australian fresh water crocodiles. Her work has shown that for immobilizing agents to be effective, they must be given in the front legs. She has developed protocols that result in reliable immobilization across a range of body temperatures that will allow safe handling of these animals and rapid recovery with no long term effects. This work has resulted in four publications so far (See Recent Publications)

Eastern Water Dragon Anaesthesia, Reproduction and Overwintering.

In collaboration with Nadav Pezaro and M. Thompson (Biology, University of Sydney) and Sean Doody and Ashley Lyons (Monash University) the Veterinary Staff at the Avian Reptile and Exotic Pet Hospital have developed new anaesthetic protocols for Eastern water dragons that have direct field applications and a new protocol for the surgical implantation and removal of temperature recording devices. This research has resulted in the discovery of the role that core body temperature plays in the onset of egg laying and hot core body temperatures of dragons change prior to, during and after hibernation.

Genetic Diversity, Population Structure and Ecology


Koala Genetic Diversity, Population Structure and Ecology.

This work done by Tristan Lee (PhD Student), in collaboration with Robert Close (University Western Sydney), Chris Allen (National Parks), and Victorian Veterinarians and Wildlife Rehabilitators has demonstrated the impact of the fur trade on the populations of koalas in the Greater Sydney area and their resilience. It has identified important genetic populations in New South Wales and importantly shown that koalas in South Gippsland from a unique genetic population that needs to be managed separately from the koalas in western Victoria.

Grey-headed Flying Fox

Grey-headed Flying Fox

Christmas Island Flying Foxes.

The Staff of the Wildlife Health and Conservation Clinic with members of the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health and National Parks Staff on Christmas Island are investigating the genetic diversity and origins of the Christmas Island Flying Fox.

Infectious Diseases in Wildlife and Captive Exotic Pets
Bourkes Parrot

Bourkes Parrot

Herpesviruses in parrots.

In collaboration with investigators from the University of California Davis, Private Practitioners, investigators from the Department of Primary Industry, New South Wales, and the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Centre, Texas A&M University, the staff at the Wildlife Health and Conservation Clinic have discovered an new herpesvirus causing respiratory disease in parrots and have shown that it occurs in both North America and Australia.

Brown Goshawk

Brown Goshawk Copyright Dejan Stojanovic

Herpesviruses in birds of prey and pigeons.

In collaboration with zoo veterinarians and pathologists and support from the Australian Wildlife Health Network, the staff of the Wildlife Health and Conservation Clinic have shown that feeding pigeon’s infected with the pigeon herpesviurs caused a fatal disease in 3 species of native Australian birds of prey (See Recent Publications). Our work has also shown that most feral pigeons are infected with this Herpesvirus.

Macrorhabdus ornithogaster

Macrorhabdus ornithogaster

Macrorhabdus ornithogaster (aka Megabacteria).

In collaboration with Dr. Hanafusa (National Institute of Animal Health, Japan), Dr. Hoppes (Texas A&M University). The distribution of this disease in wild and captive finches and parrots in Australia has been determined, new treatment protocols for this yeast have been developed and improved diagnostic techniques for this yeast have been developed.

Recent Publications

  1. Saggese, M. D., G. Riggs, I. Tizard, G. Bratton, R. Taylor, D.N. Phalen. Gross and Microscopic findings and investigation of the aetiopahtogenesis of mycobacteriosis in a captive population of white-winged ducks (Cairina scutulata). Avian Path. 2007:36;415-422.
  2. Saggese, M. D., I. Tizard, D. N. Phalen. Mycobacteriosis in naturally infected ring-neck doves (Streptopelia risoria): Susceptibility to infection, disease and lesions associated with feather color. Avian Path. 2008:37;443-450.
  3. Gray, P.L, M.D. Saggese, D.N. Phalen, and I. Tizard. Humoral response to Mycobacterium avium subsp. avium in naturally infected ring-neck doves (Streptopelia risoria).Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 125; 216-224, 2008.
  4. Phalen, D. N. Evaluation of student abilities to respond to a “real world” question about an emerging infectious disease. J Vet Med Ed. 36;216-219, 2009.
  5. Brumbaugh, W.G., M. A. Mora, T. W. May, D. N. Phalen. Metal exposure and effects in voles and small birds near a mining haul rod in Capt Krusenstern Nation Monument, Alaska. Environ Monit Assess 170; 73-86, 2010.
  6. Lee, T., K. R. Zenger, R. L. Close, M. Jones, D. N. Phalen. Population structure and genetic diversity of vulnerable koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) populations in the Sydney region, Australia. Wildl Res 37; 156-165, 2010.
  7. Phalen, D. N., M. L. Drew, B. Simpson, K. Roset, K. Dubose, M. Mora. Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica in Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) chicks from central Texas: Prevalence, serotypes, pathogenicity and epizootic potential. J Wildl Dis 46; 379-389, 2010.
  8. Hartigan, A., D. N. Phalen, J. Slapeta. Museum material reveals a frog parasite emergence after the invasion of the cane toad in Australia. Parasites Vect 3:50 (10 June 2010), 2010.
  9. Saggese M. D., I Tizard, D. N. Phalen. Comparison of sampling methods, culture, acid-fast stain, and polymerase chain reaction assay for the diagnosis of mycobacteriosis in ring-neck doves (Streptopelia risoria). J Avian Med Surg 24(4); 263-271, 2010.
  10. Phalen D. N., P. P. Holz, L. Rassmussen, C. Bayley. Fatal Columbid Herpesvirus-1 infections in three species of Australian birds of prey. Aus Vet J 89(5); 193-196, 2011.
  11. Lee, T., K. R. Zenger, R. L. Close, D. N. Phalen. A remnant koala gene pool found in the South Gippsland koala population in Victoria, Australia. Aust Mamm Published on line., 2011
  12. Hartigan, A. F. Ivan, D. Iva, M. Jirků, B. Okimoto, K. Rose, D. N. Phalen, J. Šlapeta A suspected parasite spill-back of two novel Myxidium spp. (Myxosporea) causing disease in Australian endemic frogs found in the invasive cane toad. Plos One 6(4) 1-12, 2011.
  13. Musser, J. M. B., J.J. Heatley, D. N. Phalen. Pharmacokinetics of flunixin after intravenous administration of flunixin meglumine in Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulates) and Patagonian Conures (Cyanoliseus patagonus) JAVMA. In press, 2012.
  14. Debenham, J.J., R. Johnson, L. Vogelnest, D. N. Phalen, R. Whittington, J. Slapeta J. Year-long presence of Eimeria echidnae and absence of Eimeria tachyglossi in captive short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Journal of Parasitology In press, 2012. doi:
  15. Haritgan, A. I. Fiala, I. Dykova, K. Rose, D. N. Phalen, J. Šlapeta. New species of Myxosporea from frogs and resurrection of the genus Cystodiscus Lutz, 1889 for species with myxospores in gallbladders of amphibians. Parasitol In press, 2012. doi:10.1017/S0031182011002149.
  16. Olsson, A., D. N. Phalen. Chemical immobilisation of estuarine (Crocodylus porosus) and Australian freshwater (C. johnstoni) crocodiles with medetomidine. Vet Anesthesia Analgesia. In press, 2012.
  17. Olsson, A., D. N. Phalen. Medetomidine immobilisation and atipamezole reversal in large estuarine crocodiles, Crocodylus porosus, using metabolically scaled doses. Aust. Vet J. In press, 2012.
  18. Hartigan, A., C. Sangster, K. Rose, D. N. Phalen, J. Šlapeta. Myxozoan parasite in the brain of critically endangered frog. Emeg Infec Dis. Published online, 2012.
  19. Olsson, A., D. N. Phalen. A preliminary study of the effects of decreased body temperature on the onset, duration and action of medetomidine and its reversing agent atipamezole in juvenile farmed estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus). Vet Anesthesia Analgesia. Accepted March 2012.
  20. Olsson, A., D. N. Phalen. Preliminary studies of alfaxalone for intravenous immobilization of juvenile captive estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) and Australian freshwater crocodiles (C. johnstoni) at optimal and selected sub-optimal thermal zones. Vet Anesthesia Analgesia. Submitted March 2012.
  21. Hartigan, N. K. Dhand, K. Rose, J. Šlapeta, D. N. Phalen. A Comparative pathology and ecological implications of two myxosporean parasites in native Australian frogs and the invasive cane toad. Plos One. Submitted March 2012.
  22. Dominguez, M. K., D. G. Hewitt, W. P. Kuvelesky, D. N. Phalen, S. J. Demaso. Impact of overwinter nutrition on nesting characteristics of wild turkeys in South Texas, The Auk. Submitted April 2012.

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