Taronga and Melbourne zoos have introduced measures to protect their animals from the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that is threatening Australia.
Although there have been no domestic cases reported yet, both zoos have implemented additional biosecurity restrictions as precautionary measures amid the outbreak in Indonesia.
The Taronga Conservation Society Australia, which runs Taronga Zoo and the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, said they have stopped allowing visitors to walk through the enclosures of animals which are at higher risk of exposure and visitors are wearing footwear covers in some areas.
They said they are also reviewing their FMD plan to ensure it is aligned with the plan established by Ausvet, the national body for animal epidemiologists.
“Across our two zoos Taronga has enacted stricter measures including the cessation of animal walkthroughs with animals at higher risk such as the deer and goat walkthroughs at Taronga Western Plains Zoo,” the Taronga Conservation Society said in a statement.
“The wearing of footwear covers in some animal encounters will also be implemented. We are currently in the process of communicating this with our community.”
Zoos Victoria said the risk of transmission to their animals was extremely low, but in an email to members they announced a series of protocol changes.
People who have recently visited Indonesia are being asked to wait 48 hours before visiting the zoo, while those who live with any livestock – except horses – have been asked to avoid visiting altogether.
A public pathway along a trail used by critically endangered Asian elephants to walk between paddocks has been blocked off to ensure the animals are not stepping in soil that could have been brought in from outside the zoo.
Additionally, visitor encounters with giraffes, kangaroos, and elephants are temporarily unavailable.
“We have put in place some containment protocols to help ensure our animals are safe and that this risk remains low,” the email to zoo members said.
Zoos Victoria said staff are also taking precautions to ensure animals are protected, and will be following the Department of Agriculture and Chief Veterinary Officer’s advice in the event of an outbreak.
The federal opposition has intensified its calls to shut the border with Indonesia, but agriculture minister Murray Watt said such a move would damage Australia’s agricultural reputation, especially as evidence suggests existing biosecurity measures are doing their job.
On Monday, opposition leader Peter Dutton said the government was “playing with a loaded gun”, suggesting that if the virus were to reach Australia, hundreds of thousands of livestock would be slaughtered, forcing the price of meat “through the roof.”
There have been no detections of the live virus in Australia, but viral fragments have been detected. Biosecurity response zones were set up at Australian airports last week.
The government has also ordered the checking of parcels arriving from China and Indonesia as part of the response to the virus.
While the disease is not dangerous to humans, if an outbreak were to occur, a 72-hour stand still for all livestock movements in Australia would have to be implemented, amid a significant biosecurity containment response.