Infectious and Parasitic Diseases of Farmed Ratites

Over the past decade, there has been a world-wide increase in the number of farm-raised ratites. The focus of ostrich production remains in South Africa, but other countries are initiating production of this bird in addition to the emu and rhea. Ostriches, emus and rheas are being produced commercially outside their native habitat, resulting in new and unique disease presentations. The authors describe bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases which are emerging in production settings. Biosecurity, together with adequate management and nutrition, will reduce the likelihood of flock exposure and limit mortality in the event of infection. The problem currently facing the industry is that most ratite facilities do not incorporate separate quarantine areas. Newly-introduced birds may contaminate soil and facilities with pathogens such as Mycobacterium spp. and Salmonella spp. Ratites have excellent production potential if producers can profitably multiply and rear healthy stock The authors discuss the currently-known diseases which may affect the viability of an intensive production facility.

With the increase in the numbers of farm-raised ratites throughout Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, there has been a world-wide increase in the spread of parasitic and infectious diseases associated with these birds. The three most commonly raised ratite species are ostriches (Struthio camelus), emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) and rheas (Rhea americana). The Darwin’s rhea (Pterocnemia pennata) is of no significance in commercial production, as it is listed as an endangered species. The purpose of ratite production is to supply consumers with high-quality leather, low-fat red meat, feathers and other by-products (e.g. oils from rendered emu fat). As entrepreneurs raise birds to meet the potential demand, a world-wide interest in ratites has developed. The transport of birds across international borders has created the potential for the spread of infectious diseases. Regulatory authorities from many countries have recognized ratites as a threat to the health ofcommercial poultry. In Australia, importation restrictions permit the introduction of commercial poultry and some avian species through high-security quarantine facilities