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Mystery of the dead crocodiles solved

Scientists believe that they might have finally cracked the mystery of the deaths of thousands of baby crocodiles in captivity in the Top End.//

Eye and throat disease had killed the young farmed crocodiles at four of the Top End's five crocodile farms in recent past weeks.

Veterinary pathologist Dr Ian Jerrett said, "Preliminary data suggests the unusually cold dry season and exposure of hatchlings to older disease-carrying crocodiles are factors contributing to the outbreak."

"Chlamydial infection is present at a low level in crocodiles under normal conditions. Our research suggests it develops into a serious disease in susceptible hatchlings under conditions of cold stress or temperature fluctuations and simultaneous exposure to the organism.

"We believe the infection is then spread by direct contact or transmission through water.

"Further testing will occur and we hope to establish the origin during the next few weeks. In the meantime, we are constantly in touch with the affected crocodile farms."

Researchers from Queensland and Victoria are working together with staff from the diagnostic division of the department of primary industry, fisheries and mines at Berrimah to examine the disease that is assumed to be a strain unique to saltwater crocodiles.

DNA analysis will be conducted to compare the organism found in crocodiles with chlamydia in birds and other species.

According to Berrimah veterinary epidemiologist Dr Francois Human temperatures have been below average during the dry season this year and this may have caused stress in the reptiles.

Dr Human said, "The immune system of young crocodiles is compromised when the pen temperature falls below 28C. While we do not rule out a link with wild birds, we think it unlikely."


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