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Live squirrels from Bali can conceal medical nightmare

January 3, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

From time to time, an Aussie visitor to Bali (like one a couple of weeks ago) becomes so enchanted with the island’s cute squirrels, they decide to sneak one or two home – perhaps not realising that squirrels can carry one of the world’s most ghastly fatal diseases.

That’s what seems to have happened in a case last month, when Biosecurity and Australian Border Force (ABF) officers at Brisbane Airport intercepted two live squirrels, not travelling by themselves (with little suitcases) but allegedly smuggled in by an Australian resident.

Information about the traveller was received through Border Watch and ABF officers approached the person at the airport and found the squirrels.

Head of biosecurity operations at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Nico Padovan, said the passenger had put Australia’s animal and human health at risk.

“The fact that this passenger would intentionally breach our biosecurity conditions and put our country at risk is unbelievable,” Padovan said.

“Live animals from overseas can carry a range of serious diseases that are dangerous for Australian animals as well as humans.

“Squirrels can carry rabies – which is present in Bali – and if this disease was to arrive here the toll on human and animal health would be huge. Every year more than 60,000 people worldwide die from rabies.”

Rabies – a horrendous viral disease that causes inflammation of the brain and central nervous system in humans and other mammals – is one of medicine’s true nightmares. Early symptoms often include tingling at the site of exposure, and that’s just the start.

The tingling is followed by fever, anxiety, insomnia, twitching, convulsions, uncontrolled excitement, morbid fear of water, inability to move parts of the body, confusion, agitation, paranoia, terror and hallucinations – progressing over a week or two to delirium and coma, followed by death.

Once symptoms appear, the disease is nearly always fatal. More than 95% of human deaths from rabies occur in Africa and Asia and the time period between contracting the disease and the start of symptoms is usually one to three months.

“Biosecurity is no joke and the passenger is now subject to an investigation and could face a range of serious penalties, including criminal prosecution,” Padovan said.

ABF regional commander Queensland, Terry Price, said the ABF remained committed to protecting both Australian and international wildlife.

“Given Australia’s famed, unique and fragile biodiversity, it is crucial that we do all we can at the border to stop animals from entering Australia that may constitute a disease or other threat,” Price said.

“Further, the smuggling of wildlife is not only illegal but also very cruel and inhumane, with animals often smuggled for extended periods of time without sustenance and in confined space.”

Both squirrels were euthanised due to biosecurity concerns.

The maximum penalty for the biosecurity offences is up to 5 years imprisonment, fines of up to AUD 63,000, or both.

The maximum penalty for wildlife trade offences under Australian law is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to AUD 210,000 for individuals over AUD 1 million for corporations.

Edited by Peter Needham

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