Epizootics of sudden death in tammar wallabies (Macropus eugenii) associated with an orbivirus infection


Corresponding author.


Epizootics of sudden death in tammar wallabies (Macropus eugenii) occurred at six research facilities and zoological gardens in New South Wales, Australia, in late 1998 and at one Queensland research facility in March 1999. There were 120 confirmed tammar wallaby deaths during this period; however, population censuses indicated that up to 230 tammar wallabies may have died. The majority of animals died without premonitory signs. A small proportion of wallabies exhibited increased respiratory rate, sat with a lowered head shortly before death or were discovered in lateral recumbency, moribund and with muscle fasciculations. Gross postmortem findings consistently included massive pulmonary congestion, mottled hepatic parenchyma and subcutaneous oedema throughout the hindlimbs and inguinal region. Approximately 30% of the animals examined also had extensive haemorrhage within the fascial planes and skeletal muscle of the hindlimb adductors, inguinal region, ventral thorax, dorsal cervical region and perirenal retroperitoneal area. The tissues of affected animals became autolytic within a short period after death. Bacteriological examination of tissues from 14 animals did not provide any significant findings. Toxicological examination of the gastric and colonic contents of four animals did not reveal evidence of brodifacoume or other rodenticides. Viruses from the Eubenangee serogroup of the Orbivirus genus were isolated from the cerebral cortex of nine, and the myocardium of two, tammar wallabies and the liver and intestine of another tammar wallaby. A similar orbivirus was also isolated from the cerebrospinal fluid of another tammar wallaby that died suddenly. The disease agent appears to be a previously unrecognised orbivirus in the Eubenangee serogroup. This is the first report of epizootics of sudden deaths in tammar wallabies apparently associated with an orbivirus infection.