Dr Jemima Amery-Gale, Guest Speaker at the West Papua Rent Collective Christmas Party in Docklands on Sunday 9 December 2018, is a veterinarian (Melbourne University, 2013) deeply concerned about West Papua’s wildlife, which is facing increasing threat from mining, logging, conversion of rainforests to palm oil plantations, and the black market trade of indigenous fauna.
“Just 250km from Australia and on the same side of the Wallace Line, West Papua shares special flora and fauna assemblages with Australia, but in West Papua these species are little known to science and of largely unknown conservation status … and the Indonesian occupation makes the study and conservation of these precious species extremely difficult.”
Jemima was born in Victor Harbor (South Australia) but conceived in Yirrkala (Arnhem Land) and given the names Wapilina and Gaḏitjpirr after two sacred Yolŋu islands. Her parents are linguists who specialise in Australian indigenous languages, having worked on Yolŋu Matha in East Arnhem Land, and currently with the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray, lower lakes and Coorong areas of South Australia, and the Kaurna people of the Adelaide plains on their language revival movements.
“David Attenborough taught me to love animals when I was a kid. The tragedy of species extinction really affected me… one of the most profoundly sad things that I’d heard about.”
Jemima has a soft spot for Australian marsupials, and for the egg-laying mammals like the platypus and short-beaked echidna in Australia and the long-beaked echidna in New Guinea. “There are no other monotremes in the world, which means that if we allow their extinction we will have taken out a whole order of mammals that have evolved over millennia.”
Recently (in 2007) scientists from the Zoological Society of London found that a species of the long-beaked echidna named after Sir David Attenborough may not be extinct, finding burrows and tracks in the Cyclops Mountains south of Jayapura (Note 1).
In 2013 Jemima worked in a private vet clinic in Darwin, and at the Territory Wildlife Park. In 2016 she completed a residency at Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria and a Masters research-thesis on bird diseases that can be transmitted to humans (note to reader, “never kiss a parrot”) or that are of biosecurity significance. Her study found that beak and feather disease virus is present in several bird species other than parrots and cockatoos, which were not previously thought to carry the circovirus (Note 2). Her project also incorporated surveillance for avian influenza viruses, herpesviruses, paramyxoviruses and coronaviruses, during which she discovered two novel avian alphaherpesviruses: one from a sulphur-crested cockatoo and the other in a tawny frogmouth (Note 3).
In 2016 Jemima worked with the Yolŋu people in East Arnhem Land on an animal management program, desexing dogs and cats and providing parasite control. Dogs in particular carry Sarcoptes mites and hookworms that can transiently infect humans and contribute to the cycle of streptococcal skin infections that can lead to rheumatic heart disease and glomerulonephritis. (Indigenous Australians in Arnhem Land have some of the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease in the world).
Currently Jemima is doing a PhD in the Microbiology group of the Veterinary School at Melbourne University, attempting to make an immunocontraceptive vaccine to help control feral cats in Australia. “Feral cats kill at least two-thousand native animals every minute across the continent. It’s astounding that we’ve got any wildlife left.”
On Sunday 9th December 2018 Jemima will be speaking about West Papua’s threatened wildlife species and the threats they face, and how we can help to try to ensure their continued existence into the future.
Radical Australia, 3CR Community Radio, Fitzroy (Victoria, Australia). Dr Joe Toscano interviewing native fauna conservationist Dr Jemima Amery-Gale (60 mins)
Note 1. New hope over ‘extinct’ echidna BBC News, 15 July 2007, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6897977.stm
Note 2. A high prevalence of beak and feather disease virus in non-psittacine Australian birds Amery-Gale, J; Marenda, MS; Owens, J; Eden, PA; Browning, GF; Devlin, JM, JOURNAL OF MEDICAL MICROBIOLOGY, 2017, 66 (7), pp. 1005-1013 (https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/28703699).
Note 3. Avian viral surveillance in Victoria, Australia, and detection of two novel avian herpesviruses Amery-Gale J, Hartley CA, Vaz PK, Marenda MS, Owens J, Eden PA, Devlin JM, PLoS One, 23/03/2018, 13(3):e0194457
Front photo Tree Kangaroo (Dingisio) by Tim Flannery in Throwim way leg Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1998. ABC-RN Interview, 31 December 2016, discussing his three ground-breaking visits to West Papua in the early 1990s, Sense of Place: Tim Flannery on western New Guinea, at https://abcmedia.akamaized.net/rn/podcast/2016/12/bfl_20161231_0915.mp3