April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 8. Importing exotic sheep breeds

 Scrapie suspected at Mana Island quarantine station
 Confirmation by international expert Dr J.T. Stamp
Burning of carcases at Mana

By Dr Clive Dalton

Shock-horror at Mana Island. 

A report in Surveillance Vol 5:4 1978 by MAF veterinarian Dave Collins reported that a clinical case of Scrapie was confirmed in an East Friesian ewe on Mana Island on 30 September 1976.  

 This triggered the following recommendations by a special technical committee set up to deal with the emergency:
  • All the East Friesians should be destroyed because they were closely related and came originally from the same flock in the UK.  Finn sheep from the same property in UK, together with their purebred progeny and F1 crosses on Mana should also be destroyed. This was done.
  •  The possibility of lateral spread of the disease to other exotic sheep and their crosses could not be ruled out, so the remaining sheep in quarantine on Mana and at Crater should be kept in quarantine for 5 more years.
  •  If another Scrapie case occurred during this extended quarantine period, all sheep, which had been in direct or indirect contact with infected sheep would be destroyed.
 These first sheep (total of 300) were slaughtered and their carcases burned on Mana.               Photo by Ken Seecombe
More bad news - more Scrapie
But things got worse.  The disease was not eliminated with the slaughter of the East Friesians and some Finns on Mana, as it reappeared again that year (1978) in one of the remaining Finns. As a result the entire flock of 1900 head on Mana was slaughtered.

There were too many to contemplate building a funeral pyre, so they were  deep buried in a pit on the west side of the island.  All tags were removed from the carcasses before burial.

Wallaceville 2013 - Up for lease! A disgrace!
Photo: Allen Heath
John Dobbie remembers this well as he and the other Genetics technical staff of Tim Harvey and Ian Malthus ended up in the thick of it.  Another Finn ewe started to sicken John says late on a Friday, when public servants of course were heading home for the weekend.  

 So John had great difficulty finding someone in MAF Animal Health Division with the authority to move the sick sheep off the Island to be sent to Wallaceville Animal Health Laboratory in Upper Hutt, and he instructed Don Cameron who was OIC of Mana, to keep going up the bureaucratic pyramid till he found someone who would make a decision on the sheep’s fate – even if he had to end up with the Governor General!

Confirmation of Scrapie 
Veterinary pathologist Alan Julian who was on the Wallaceville staff at the time confirms that only the sheep’s brain arrived at Wallaceville, so the sheep must have breathed it’s last gasp on Mana.  Alan confirmed from examination of brain tissue that it was Scrapie without a doubt. 

Alan said that MAFTech didn’t like this news of course and demanded more proof, so the Chief Veterinary Officer George Adlam enlisted the services of Dr J.T. Stamp (Later Sir John), Director of the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh and a world authority on Scrapie. 

 Dr J.T. Stamp's arrival
Stamp was flown to New Zealand at government expense and MAF Head Office veterinarian Dr John Hellstrom remembers 'the great man' and a whole entourage of vets led by Adlam, being helicoptered to Somes Island and then to Mana Island with media in hot pursuit. 

This was red hot news! There were those who couldn't believe the disease had appeared after all the time in quarantine, but this was the nature of the disease. And there were those who were keen to shout - 'Didn't I tell you what would happen'!  

Photo: Dr John Hellstrom.  Words and Pictures photo 

'Och Aye' - it's Scrapie
Section of brain tissue showing vacuoles (holes) confirming Scrapie.  
Photo: Alan Julian who did the initial diagnosis

 MAF Head Office veterinarian Dr Peter O’Hara remembers having arranged a whole row of microscopes set up at Wallaceville with slides of brain tissue for Stamp to examine, and the good doctor declaring an ‘Och Aye’ after looking at each one. 

 There was no doubt it was Scrapie and Stamp’s unequivocal advice to Adlam was to slaughter all the sheep on Mana Island and Crater, and never run sheep again on these areas.

Alan Julian remembers Stamp as a canny wee Scot with a great sense of humour who enjoyed a wee dram.  The killing and burial of the flock on Mana started on 17 August 1978.  The photo below shows the pit dug, ready for the carcases on the cliff edge on the west side of the island - facing Australia!  
Photographic records

Memories from Ken Seccombe
Ken Seccombe in his LO Days
I trained as a Livestock Instructor in the old Department of Agriculture, which subsequently changed to Livestock Officer (LO) and joined the MAF Animal Health Division Training Unit in Palmerston North at the end of 1975 as L.O. (Technical Training).

There were two vets in the Unit - Peter Trim and Terry Cook with Don Thomson as Divisional LO (Technical Training) and me. We also had admin staff and a graphic artist.

The Unit was tasked with technician training for the Tb. and brucellosis eradication schemes as well as exotic disease training for vets and LO's.

The Training Unit directed by Peter Trim developed resources for extension activities which included audio visual aids such as OHP transparencies and 35mm slides (video was not yet in common use).

My existing interest in photography was put to good use in building the Training Unit's slide library. The Unit didn't even have a camera to start with and I remember using my own Minolta SLR to take 15,000 slides in my first year.

Given this background, it was logical that I was included in the LO team sent to Mana Island to dispose of the East Friesian flock in 1976, with the primary objective of eliminating the source of Scrapie, but the secondary purpose was to test and record the methods of disposal.

I was the ‘official’ photographer and I recorded each step involved in the slaughter (by captive bolt pistols), transport, and stacking of the carcasses, building the funeral pyre and the lighting and burning of the pyre until the ash was buried. In addition to 35mm slides I took some Super 8mm film on a camera I borrowed from the Flock House Audio Visual Unit.

The slides were used extensively for training purposes; the movie film less so due to a lack of Super 8mm projectors. I recall some attempt to convert the film to video through the Flock House tele-cine chain but I don't think it was very successful.

In 1978 I was again sent to Mana for the disposal of the remaining flock as due to the much larger number, the decision was made to bury the carcasses, and again I recorded every step from digging the trench to covering the carcasses.

TVNZ was permitted to send a camera crew over to record some of the activities and their footage should still be in their archives. I remember conning a ride on their helicopter to get some aerial shots of the site.  From Mana Island I went to Rotorua and observed and recorded the slaughter and disposal of the Crater Block sheep.

In 1980 I resigned from MAF to set up my own training consultancy. I've often wondered what happened to all the training resources, including the slide library after the Unit was disbanded. I only hope that someone was savvy enough to ensure this irreplaceable piece of our agricultural history wasn't discarded!

Photo by Ken Seecombe after hitching a ride on TVNZ chopper

Bush on Mana in 2015.  Photo by Jim Hammond

Wetland area on Mana in 2015.  Photo by Jim Hammond

Storage sheds on Mana in 2015. Storage sheds.  Photo by Jim Hammond

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