Pig surveys support TB eradication

Date 16 January 2017

Contracted professional hunters have been procuring wild pigs for TB research this year.

Northern South Island pigs are playing an important role in the effort to eradicate bovine TB.

Professional hunting contractors working for the organisation that manages New Zealand’s TBfree programme, OSPRI, are out this year looking for feral pigs that can indicate the presence, or absence, of TB in an area’s wildlife.

Northern South Island programme manager for OSPRI Josh King says that pig surveillance is one of the best tools available for understanding the geographical location of TB infection. “When TB is present in possums in an area, it is highly likely that it will also be present in local pigs,” he says.

“If we can pinpoint where disease is, we can be specific about possum control,” he says.In the next 10 months, pigs will be taken from across selected areas of North Canterbury, Marlborough, Tasman and the West Coast where we want to better understand the pattern of disease. This is important surveillance work for the new TBfree programme, which is on track to eradicate bovine TB from farmed cattle and deer by 2026, from possums by 2040 and from all New Zealand by 2055.

While possums are known to be the main transmitters of disease to farmed livestock and to other wildlife, pigs do carry the disease but don’t pass it on. To gain access to areas of pig habitat, our contractors will request permission to enter farmland. Farmers can help by granting access and informing them of any known hazards that could endanger their safety.

Much of the work will involve helicopter hunting, although some traditional hunting methods will employed.Once feral pigs have been collected, post-mortem examinations check for tuberculosis in the lymph nodes just below the jawbone, and this can indicate the presence of disease in the area where the animal was taken.

King says that makes it crucial for our contractors to correctly dispose of skins and offal after they’ve removed the head. Farmers can help by offering the use of their covered offal pits. “Disposing of offal properly is really important for containing any disease a pig might carry,” he says.

As more areas of New Zealand are cleared of disease, pigs can also confirm the effect of good possum control. “The absence of TB in pigs is also useful – to demonstrate that possum control has been effective and that disease has been eradicated from the area.”

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