Fears as mystery illness kills masses of birds and mammals: 'We don't know'

Brisbane authorities say they cannot rule out poisoning.

Over 100 dead and dying birds have been found across the Brisbane suburb of Pinkenba, near the city’s airport. It’s the third mass kill incident to impact an Australian state since February.

The incident follows 700 waterbirds killed by botulism, a bacterial disease, in Victoria earlier this year. While in inner Sydney 25 ducks as well as bats, corellas and lorikeets have succumbed to a mystery illness.

Left - Lake Northam in Sydney. Right - a sick looking rat at the site of bird deaths in Brisbane.
Over 25 dead birds have been found in Sydney (left), while in Brisbane (right) over 100 affected birds, rats, and toad have been found. Source: Michael Dahlstrom/Yahoo

Poisoning cannot be ruled out, RSPCA warns

RSPCA Queensland revealed the birds in Brisbane carried a strong odour and were covered in a thick algae. Pinkemba is in an industrial region of the Brisbane River, just south of the city's airport.

Bodies began appearing on Friday, and two areas of concern were identified — a drainage system and a pond. Rescue manager Jo Jordaan said it’s been “devastating” to encounter so many dead birds in a single area. “We don’t know what’s caused these birds to become sick and die — which is of most concern,” Mr Jordaan said.

  • Ducks, ibis and magpie geese have been impacted.

  • Poisoning cannot yet be ruled out.

  • Deceased birds are undergoing testing.

  • Dead rats and toads were found nearby.

Left - dead animals in front of a water body at Pinkenba. Right - a street with a van parked at Pinkenba.
Over 100 dead ducks have been found in the suburb of Pinkenba, along with rats and toads. Source: RSPCA
The back of an RSPCA rescuer holding a net and two ducks. There is a lake in the background.
An RSPCA rescuer helps two ducks after more than 100 died in Brisbane. Source: RSPCA

Yahoo visits Sydney lake as more dead birds discovered

Since concerns began in Sydney on March 10, animal rescuers have been urging the City of Sydney to erect signage to warn people walking around Lake Northam at Sydney University about the mystery illness killing wildlife.

Wildlife rescuers suspect the bacterial disease botulism is killing the wildlife, and they have urged council to take mitigating action to stop the deaths and stop the disease spreading, something it is yet to do.

Ducks are continuing to become paralysed, losing the ability to fly and lift their heads out of the water and are drowning as they swim.

Volunteers left to clean up mess of dead ducks

The frontline response is wholly left to volunteers. Sydney Wildlife Rescue’s Kelly Murphy has visited the lake almost every day since ducks began dying. She's concerned about the risk to pets and children, as well as the bats and birds which call the area home.

“You wake up in the morning and think, I better go and check again,” she said. “If I don’t go and I find a dead bird in the afternoon, I feel bad that I haven’t gone in and taken it to the vet before it died.”

Left - Wildlife rescuer Kelly Murphy shows Yahoo News Australia the bodies of two badly decomposed birds inside a sack. Right - inside the sack.
Wildlife rescuer Kelly Murphy shows Yahoo News Australia the bodies of two badly decomposed birds pulled from Lake Northam. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

When Yahoo News Australia visited the lake on Wednesday, workers had just removed two more badly decomposed carcasses from the water and secured them in a bag. Testing of other birds is currently underway at Taronga Zoo’s Australian Registry of Wildlife Health.

Despite the lake appearing dark and oily, preliminary tests of its water have not revealed any abnormalities.

Sydney council responds to escalating bird deaths

City of Sydney told Yahoo it has increased patrols at Victoria Park, where the lake is located, but it has shown no sign of taking further action until test results are known.

“While full results from those tests are pending, as well as the findings of necropsies carried out on the animals, the City is preparing to implement a management strategy based on expert advice on the most likely cause,” it said in a statement. “Once confirmed the City will begin implementing the appropriate measures.”

It believes the risk to the community is low and existing permanent signage make it clear people and animals should not enter the water.

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