- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - A parasite-borne disease has killed seven wallabies at the Virginia Zoo over the past 11 months and the remaining wallabies have been quarantined.

The wallabies that died were among 10 that the zoo brought in from New Zealand in 2014. Zoo officials confirmed the deaths on Monday, The Virginian-Pilot (https://bit.ly/1uXbTK2 ) reported.

Dr. Amanda Guthrie, the zoo’s veterinarians, said the wallabies don’t have a natural immunity to the disease, toxoplasmosis, because it’s not indigenous to New Zealand.

Guthrie said she expected some of the wallabies to get sick but was surprised by the number of deaths.

“I did not expect them to be … so susceptible in such a short amount of time,” she told the newspaper. “We spent a good deal of money to bring all these animals from New Zealand. We wouldn’t have spent that money if we thought they were all going to do poorly.”

She said a number of baby wallabies also have died and it’s possible some deaths were caused by toxoplasmosis.

It’s debatable when a baby wallaby is actually considered a death, as the animals are smaller than a pinky finger when they’re born and spend the first year of their lives inside their mothers’ pouches, Guthrie said.

Greg Bockheim, the zoo’s executive director, said zoo staff knew toxoplasmosis was present in the zoo’s soil, and the disease might have caused the deaths of other wallabies or kangaroos in the past.

But he said toxoplasmosis is “everywhere” and the benefits of having wallabies in captivity outweighed the potential risk to the animals.

Wallabies are smaller members of the kangaroo family, according to the zoo. On average, they are between 2 and 3 feet tall and weigh an average of 25 to 55 pounds. With powerful hind legs, they can move as fast as 30 mph and jump up to 6 feet.

Bockheim said he plans to bring in wallabies from other zoos that have survived for a period of time in captivity. They might have developed an immunity to toxoplasmosis, he said.

Two wallabies already have arrived from other zoos. The zoo expects to bring in up to five more later.

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Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, https://pilotonline.com


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