At the end of last year I received a call from Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre about their rescued parrots and cockatoos. They were concerned that Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) may be present within wild birds in Western Australia. There was a risk that the disease might spread from and among Kanyana’s recently rescued parrots, and also then spread to their endangered Black Cockatoos.
PBFD is an infectious virus that affects birds in the parrot family. The disease is often severe, causing feather, claw and beak degeneration, along with other resulting infections. There is no treatment, and the disease often results in the affected bird’s eventual death. Some birds with no symptoms may act as disease carriers, and in its initial stages disease symptoms are often weak or absent, so the high infection rate between birds means prevention of cross-infection is challenging.
Kanyana was sampling all incoming birds by taking a tiny amount of blood that was sent to a laboratory for testing. However, their existing PBFD testing service was shuttling their birds’ samples from Perth to the Eastern states, and then on to a laboratory in South Africa for analysis, all by post. This often resulted in in lengthy delays between sampling and receiving their birds’ results, so increasing the risks of disease transfer.
In stepped Smithson Environmental! We developed and validated a sensitive genetic test for presence of PBFD in bird blood using a technique similar to DNA Fingerprinting. Because a negative PBFD result might be caused by other problems such as poor sample quality, we also developed a control genetic test that determined the gender of the bird – a different DNA Fingerprint is obtained from female parrots compared to male parrots.
We are delighted to be able to offer our genetic testing to rescue birds at Kanyana! We hope that this will reduce the risk of spread of this disease, and increase the chances of rehabilitation and rehoming. Our validated test is now available to vets and pet owners on request.