AgResearch CT scanner comes to the rescue for kakapo

Access to a CT scanner is being hailed as a game-changer in the fight against a fungal infection in critically endangered kakapo.

In recent days kakapo chicks have been undergoing scans in the AgResearch CT scanner at Invermay.

The organisation donated the scanner time and staff for the effort.

The chicks were being scanned for the presence of the fungal infection aspergillosis after an outbreak in the kakapo population on Anchor Island, in Fiordland.

One adult female bird had died in this outbreak, prompting the scanning effort.

Department of Conservation kakapo advocacy and logistics ranger Bronwyn Jeynes said spores of the fungus aspergillus could take root in a bird’s respiratory tract, causing illness which could prove fatal if untreated.

"Basically it gets into their lungs and fills their lungs up with lovely fluffy fungus, and that means [they] can’t breathe. So as you can imagine, that is not a good situation."

Diagnostic methods had previously been blunt, including running blood tests to check for heightened white blood cell counts as an indicator of possible infection.

A kakapo chick is scanned in a CT scanner at AgResearch’s Invermay Campus. PHOTO: AGRESEARCH
A kakapo chick is scanned in a CT scanner at AgResearch’s Invermay Campus. PHOTO: AGRESEARCH
The CT scanner meant staff could see what was happening in a scanned bird’s lungs.

"We’ve been able to do that really quickly, get them off island, and get them checked within 24 or 48 hours of them coming off island, and then getting those scans through to an expert in the US who’s been reading them and getting them back to us as fast as she can."

The scanning effort found one more adult female bird was infected, along with five chicks.

The adult bird was being treated at Auckland Zoo, while the chicks were being looked after at the Wildlife Hospital in Dunedin.

Doc staff were relieved the outbreak was not more widespread.

In an aspergillosis outbreak on Codfish Island in 2019, 21 birds were infected, and the illness caused the death of two adults and seven chicks.

Wildlife Hospital Trust manager Jordana Whyte said having access to the AgResearch scanner was huge for the hospital, which was helping Doc in its efforts.

Rather than flying patients to Auckland or using a hospital scanner after hours, it was "a quick trip over the hill for us".

"That’s actually really important because we have these precious patients who we’re trying to minimise the stress and disruption on their lives."

The hospital was grateful the company provided the scanner and its staff to scan the kakapo chicks for free.

AgResearch Innervision manager Neville Jopson said the kakapo chicks were a bit of a change from the sheep and deer the CT scanner was usually used on.

"We’ve never had animals that are this precious come through the scanner, and so if it can be used to try and get some better outcomes for that programme, then that’s just absolutely fantastic," he said.

Doc lists kakapo as critically endangered — only 197 adult birds are alive, along with 57 chicks born this season.


Add a Comment