A word from the Chief Veterinary Officer

Kevin De WitteHello - as you may be aware, I am Chief Inspector under three Northern Territory acts:

  • The Livestock Act – our principal animal biosecurity legislation
  • The Meat Industries Act – abattoirs, pet meat and wholesale butchers
  • The Veterinarians Act – where I am President of the Board.

I am currently reviewing the Livestock Act which, amongst a great number of biosecurity issues, will see the adoption of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards for cattle, sheep and saleyards/depots.  Universal welfare standards for handling, care, fitness to travel and killing are already in operation with the past adoption by regulation of the Land Transport Standards for Livestock.

Recently, the Northern Territory cattle tick program has been under review, with a number of options proposed to the livestock industries. The Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association (NTCA) has provided a response supporting the continuation of the cattle tick program, with suggested improvements particularly in regard Parkhurst tick surveillance.

As producers, you are an important part of the NT and national animal health surveillance system that supports our public amenity, food safety, animal welfare and market access for primary produce.  I have recently made Melioidosis and Psittacosis notifiable diseases in the NT to ensure that collectively we can better manage any public health aspects of these diseases.  I want to mention the following cases from the past 12 months:

  • Lead residues in cattle continue to surface. Discarded lead rubbish is the main issue.
  • The alert for Brucella Suis has not confirmed any Brucella infection – a severe zoonoses.
  • Melioidosis continues to be diagnosed in many species around Darwin.
  • There has been the normal run of Australian Bat Lyssavirus exclusions in bats but no further cases.  Post-exposure Rabies vaccine is available under a fee for service arrangement through DPIR for pets exposed to bats.
  • There have been few Hendra exclusions for equines.  We continue to seek samples from undiagnosed sickness in horses
  • Non-inflammatory Liver disease in young dogs – named “Humpty Doo Dog Disease” resulted in only two further possible cases in this build-up / spring.  Theories as to the cause favour a seasonal poisonous plant, possibly a fungi fruiting.
  • An epidemic of stock worker illness last wet season was confirmed as leptospirosis. A parallel investigation in young cattle demonstrated massive seroconversion to a selection of serovars but the illness in these cattle was shown to be an encephalitis due to Bovine Herpes Virus 5.  At around 1% mortality – this may be more common than reported.
  • DPIR confirmed a classic Bovine Pestivirus Persistently Infected (PI) case.  Virus is endemic.
  • Salmonellosis in two separate aviaries with significant losses of expensive birds.
  • Lastly, the NT had a significant outbreak of Necrotising Fasciitis “flesh eating bacteria” in greyhounds in late 2017.  This is a rare but often fatal disease caused by Streptococcus canis that killed about six dogs before management was improved.  Infection in other species is possible.

The national surveillance programs such as the National Arbovirus Monitoring Program (NAMP), TSE Freedom Assurance Program, Screw Worm Fly monitoring and Significant Disease Investigations continue to keep DPIR vets busy.  There are also a number of Livestock Vet initiatives under the National Biosecurity Strategy.  Berrimah veterinary Laboratory staff are happy to discuss any interesting or challenging cases that you may have, particularly where notifiable diseases are suspected.  In some cases a fee for service may apply but generally livestock investigations are free. For our contacts see:  https://www.nt.gov.au/industry/agriculture/livestock/animal-health-and-diseases/notifiable-diseases-in-animals-and-how-to-report-them

Last week we were assessed as a government veterinary service under the OIE standards as part of a national program – there is no doubt that the report will reflect the realities of a small livestock biosecurity team charged with many responsibilities including a critical core role in emergency animal disease response.


Kevin de Witte
Chief Veterinary Officer, NT

Last updated: 09 April 2018

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