George Mason drives Wildbase kiwi study

Dr George Mason examines a Morepork being treated at Massey’s Wildbase Hospital.

The George Mason Charitable Trust will contribute $50,000 per annum for three years, in order to fund a Massey University Wildbase study into parasitic disease in kiwi reared in captivity.

The George Mason Doctorate Scholarship in Wildlife Health will be awarded to a PhD student to conduct the research.

Massey Wildbase director Professor Brett Gartrell says, “we are grateful to Dr Mason for supporting this crucial research. The project is paramount in addressing an increasing threat to our native birds, and his contribution to this study, and to wildlife conservation in New Zealand, will have lasting impact on the survival of species like kiwi”.

The study will look into why kiwi bred in captivity are being infected by parasites at greater rates than those in the wild.

Parasitic infestation can result in poor welfare, illness and death in kiwi. The study will aim to minimise disease and maximise survival in kiwi infested by parasites.

Professor Gartrell says “although human intervention is necessary to curb the decline of New Zealand’s many endangered native birds, if our involvement is negatively affecting their health, we need to understand why that is happening and how the situation can be improved”.

The research will look into the identification and management of parasites in Operation Nest Egg programmes. These programmes involve the intensive rearing of young birds and include all five species of kiwi. The parasites that are causing disease and mortality in this system include nematodes whose juvenile forms can migrate through the organs and brain of the kiwi causing severe damage.

The study will enable researchers to develop tailored husbandry and therapeutic protocols that will address the imbalance in host-parasite dynamics that is currently occurring and directly benefit the welfare and conservation of kiwi. “The results of our research will have implications and benefits to the intensive management of wild species globally,” says Professor Gartrell.

The research programme will use standard parasitology techniques to characterise host-parasite dynamics and response to therapy and husbandry changes and compare this to data from wild populations. This work will be supplemented by molecular characterisation of the parasites.

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