Melbourne Zoo will restrict visitor access to the giraffes, elephants and kangaroos amid fears of a potential foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in Australia.
- An FMD outbreak could devastate Australia’s livestock industry
- Visitors to Melbourne and Werribee zoos and Healesville Sanctuary will have limited access to elephants and giraffes
- The Victorian Farmers Federation wants animals banned from this year’s Royal Melbourne Show unless strict biosecuirity rules are established
Concerns are high following an outbreak in tourist hotspot Bali.
Last night Zoos Victoria, which runs the Melbourne and Werribee zoos and Healesville Sanctuary, sent a message to members announcing the elephant enclosure’s public pathway would be closed out of an “abundance of caution”.
The message said the measures were intended to lower the risk of animals coming into contact with “soil that could have potentially been brought in from outside the zoo grounds”.
Giraffe, kangaroo and elephant “animal encounters”, where tourists and local visitors pay to spend time up close with certain animals, will be “temporality unavailable”.
“We’ve been watching very closely the outbreak and … we’ve decided to increase some of the protection levels for our animals,” Zoos Victoria chief executive Jenny Gray told the ABC.
“We have a number of susceptible animals in our care.”
Hoofed animals most vulnerable
Dr Gray said hoofed animals such as giraffes, antelopes, elephants and pig species were most at risk.
She said staff were unsure about the impact FMD could have on native macropods like kangaroos, wallabies and quokkas, which led to restrictions being applied to them.
Zoos Victoria has also asked anyone who lives with livestock – except for horses – not to visit the zoo.
Anyone who has recently returned from Indonesia is asked to wait at least 48 hours until they visit the zoo.
Santising foot mats were introduced into international airports, including Melbourne’s overnight, but Zoos Victoria is stopping short of introducing a similar biosecurity measure at the zoo gates.
Dr Gray said if there was an outbreak of FMD it would be up to government authorities to determine the fate of zoo animals.
“Foot-and-mouth has been eradicated and kept out of Australia very successfully,” she said.
“I’m sure there will be strategies put in place that will limit the spread and [that it will be] eradicated in the eventuality that it occurs.”
Plans needed for Melbourne Show: VFF
Meanwhile, peak farming body Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has called for a “substantial biosecurity plan” for this year’s Royal Melbourne Show in September.
VFF Livestock president and Giffard West farmer Steve Harrison said the show should not go ahead with animals unless steps were taken to lower the risk.
“All the people taking animals need their own biosecurity plan,” he said.
“People patting animals [should be] disinfected.
“If we can help mitigate the risk of potential disease in Australia, these are the steps we are keen to address.”
Mr Harrison acknowledged the potential disruption to the show, scheduled for September 22 to October 2, but said pre-emptive action needed to be taken.
“There’s no greater joy than seeing children pat a calf or pat a lamb for the very first time, but the welfare of the animals are at risk,” he said.
The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, which runs the Melbourne show, has been contacted for comment and the ABC understands it is meeting today to consider the issue.