Home > News > Archive > 24th May 2005

Relief after week on Waiheke

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier

Phillip BrownBy Cathy Asplin

Te Awamutu veterinarian Phillip Brown knows only too well what Foot-and-Mouth disease can do to a country. He spent four months working in Dumfries in the aftermath of the UK Foot-and-Mouth outbreak in 2001 - carrying out surveillance and dealing with farmers that were devastated by the loss of their cattle.

After returning to New Zealand he began work for The Veterinary Centre in Te Awamutu (which has three vets who have been trained to investigate exotic diseases).

So when he was called to travel to Waiheke Island as part of the MAF response to a Foot-and-Mouth scare, Mr Brown thought of those farmers in Dumfries and what the disease would do to New Zealand.

“Foot-and-Mouth would absolutely devastate this country. It is a very contagious disease and would be incredibly hard to deal with. There would be lots of sick animals very quickly. While high temperatures are an early indicator of the disease, probably the first thing farmers would notice is their cattle drooling and going lame.”

The letter outlining the New Zealand threat was received by the Prime Ministers office on May 10 and by 8am the next morning Mr Brown was on Waiheke Island.

His first day’s work was therefore around 12-13 hours long, while he spent 8-9 hours on the following days, for much of the week, monitoring livestock as part of the MAF team. Much of that time was spent taking temperatures of sheep and cattle on the rugged 800ha Waiheke Station. The station is home to around 2300 sheep and about 300 cattle.

He also had plenty of members of the media, politicians and officials watching him work.

“Obviously there was huge interest and widespread concern from this threat.”

Visitors included Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton, MP Judith Tizard, MAF Director General Murray Sherwin (ex-Te Awamutu) and Biosecurity Head Barry O’Neill.

Within a few days both Police and the vet team felt the scare was actually a hoax, but Mr Brown says it’s something that had to be taken very seriously.

“I believe it would be quite hard to get Foot-and-Mouth into the country - but it’s certainly not impossible. For that reason alone all livestock had to be located and checked.”

A helicopter equipped with GPS was used to do this, as there are around 12,500 livestock spread across the island. Like others in the team he was relieved when no sign of the disease was found.

“We’ve never had Foot-and-Mouth Disease in New Zealand and I’m happy to keep it that way.”

NOTE: Recent MAF and Biosecurity advertising in the Te Awamutu Courier reminds readers that any concerns about Foot-and-Mouth Disease or any other exotic diseases should be reported to your local vet immediately.
The MAF hotline is 0800 80 99 66. For further information visit www.biosecurity.govt.nz