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Foot-and-mouth disease preparedness and zoos

David Blyde, Debra Doolan and Michelle Campbell-Ward, NSW Department of Primary Industries

Posted Flock and Herd July 2023

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease of mainly cloven-hoofed animals. It has been exotic to Australia since 1872 (Bunn et al. 2008). Although it has occurred in nearby countries recently, including an outbreak in Indonesia in 2022 (Chen et al. 2022), no known incursions have yet been made into Australia in over 150 years. Moving away from emergency response, Indonesia declared FMD as an endemic disease in 2023, highlighting the need for ongoing biosecurity vigilance.

FMD is a significant disease from an economic perspective for Australia. An incursion of FMD has the potential to stop exports of meat, meat products and milk. A large multi-state outbreak of FMD could incur revenue losses and direct costs in the order of $50 billion (Buetre et al. 2013). In addition to the economic impact, it will have impacts on animal welfare, transportation of livestock and associated equipment as well as significant social implications.

There are approximately 100 licensed exhibited animal facilities including zoos and fauna parks in New South Wales (NSW). Whilst zoos have been considered in the outbreak of an Emergency Animal Disease (EAD) in documents such as the AUSVETPLAN Zoo Enterprise manual, the development of the Zoo Biosecurity Management Planner (ZBMP) will give staff in zoos in NSW a practical guide to preparing themselves against an outbreak of an EAD, specifically FMD.

Susceptibility of zoo species to FMD

Zoos throughout NSW hold many different species of animals, including species that have varying degrees of susceptibility to FMD. Domestic animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs are often held in zoos as part of feeding and interactive experiences. Additionally exotic bovids such as Bison (Bison bison), Eland (Taurotragus oryx) and Banteng cattle (Bos javanicus) are held by zoos is NSW as well as giraffe (Giraffa cam eloparadlis), Asiatic elephants (Elephas maximus), camelids, and cervids.

Some exotic animals such as Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) have been shown to be naturally infected with FMD and be able to transmit the virus (Officer et al. 2014). A documented bear outbreak in a rescue centre in Vietnam likely occurred due to indirect contact with livestock and was facilitated by the high density of captive bears.

Some other animals such as rats, mice, chickens and capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) have been experimentally infected with FMD (Gomes et al. 1984).

Table 1 lists FMD susceptible species found in NSW zoos.

Australian native marsupials, such as macropods and wombats, have been naturally infected (Bhattacharya et al. 2003) and shown to be able to carry and spread the disease to susceptible animals (Snowdon 1968), but their role in an outbreak of FMD in Australia, whilst thought to be negligible, is unknown. Globally, wild and feral populations of animals generally pose a low risk of transmitting FMD to domestic livestock or originating new outbreaks. The exception is the African Buffalo in southern Africa (Thomson 1995).

Feral animals are unlikely to play a significant role in maintaining and spreading FMD in Australia (Bunn 2013) with the possible exception of feral Water Buffalo in Northern Australia.

Table 1 - list of FMD susceptible species in NSW zoos. The susceptibility rating (low, medium, high) is based on the ability of the species to contract the virus, amplify the virus and spread the virus to other animals.

Pigs High
Cattle High
Sheep High
Goats High
Camels and camelids High
Deer High
Bovids e.g. all antelope species, Himalayan tahr, Barbary Sheep, Bison, Water Buffalo, Banteng etc.

Medium to high
Elephants Medium
Giraffe Medium
Canids Low
Ursids Low
Macropods Low
Wombats Low
Brush-tailed Possums* Low
Long-nosed Potoroos* Low
Long-nosed Bandicoots* Low
Australian Water Rats* Low
Brown antechinus* Low
Echidnas* Low
Rabbits* Low
Capybaras* Low
Rats* Low
Mice* Low
Chickens* Low

* Refers to animals that have only been infected experimentally

Issues specific for zoo animals

Issues specific for zoo animals include:

Zoo biosecurity management planner

In response to recent FMD outbreaks near Australia, NSW announced additional funding in 2022 to improve FMD preparedness in the state. As part of this funding, resources were allocated to develop a suite of tools for the zoo industry to boost knowledge and preparedness of FMD and other EADs.

One of the main outputs of the project will be a zoo biosecurity management planner (ZBMP) for zoos, petting zoos and wildlife parks in NSW. The purpose of the ZBMP is to assist zoos in preparing themselves for an outbreak of an EAD in their immediate area or within Australia. It includes a self-assessment audit for individual zoos to document their current biosecurity status and guides improvements to enhance preparedness for an EAD. A section devoted to FMD in particular is included.

The purpose of the ZBMP is similar to that of the Pig Biosecurity Action Planner and the Farm Biosecurity Action Plan but has been specifically designed for the unique operations and goals of zoos. It is considered complementary to the more detailed National Zoo Biosecurity Manual and its associated checklist.

Other resources

In addition to the production of the ZBMP, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has developed a map to depict zoo FMD risk geographically. All licensed exhibited animals premises were ranked according to the risk they might pose in the face of an FMD outbreak (based, in part, on the species they hold and activities they undertake) and their coordinates mapped against intensive livestock production facilities.

Risk analyses are being completed on high value zoo species, animal visitor interactions and wildlife rescue operations. These risk analyses will assist NSW DPI to understand the risks to the zoo industry and wildlife rehabilitation sector in the event of an FMD outbreak.

A series of workshops throughout NSW will be undertaken in June 2023 to present the ZBMP to the industry. In these workshops, the importance of biosecurity broadly will be discussed. In addition, assistance will be provided to develop robust ZBMPs for participants' premises. DPI staff that interact with the industry will be invited to attend the workshops to improve understanding of how zoos may be impacted by an EAD and to assist them in preparing for and responding to an outbreak.


The development and implementation of the ZBMP will assist zoos, petting zoos and fauna parks in preparing for an outbreak of an EAD, specifically FMD. It will also give the state and federal authorities increased confidence that individual enterprises and the zoo industry as a whole in NSW are well prepared in the event of an outbreak of an EAD. There will be further knowledge enhancements for DPI personnel in understanding zoo operations, zoo biosecurity and how industry and government can work effectively together to prepare for and respond to the threat of an outbreak of an EAD, specifically FMD.


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  2. Chen R, Gardiner E & Quigley A (2022) Foot and mouth disease outbreak in Indonesia: summary and implications Journal of Global Biosecurity 4 DOI: 10.31646/gbio.175
  3. Buetre B (2013) Potential socio-economic impacts of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Australia. Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science 2013 Research report 13.11
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  7. Snowdon WA (1968) The susceptibility of some Australian fauna to infection with foot and mouth disease virus Australian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science 1968 Dec; 46(6):667-87
  8. Bunn C (2013) Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Risks Relating to Wildlife - Scope, Gap Analysis and Future Priorities. AWHN. Sydney, NSW
  9. Thomson GR (1995) Overview of foot and mouth disease in southern Africa [antigenic variation, economic impact, Lome Convention] Revue Scientifique et Technique de l'OIE (France) 1995 Sep; 14(3):503-20


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