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Australian vets treat anteater for ant allergy
Ants are an echidna’s main source of food.
Echidna in recovery after receiving allergen-specific vaccine

Vets and keepers at a zoo in Australia are celebrating after successfully treating an echidna who was found to be allergic to ants.

Ants are an echidna’s main source of food, so staff at Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria, were surprised when one of their spiny residents had an unusual reaction to them.

The echidna, named Matilda, was first presented to the sanctuary in 2010 after she was accidentally dug up from her burrow. Thought to be around three months old, she would have just started eating termites and ants.

Keepers became surrogates to Matilda as she had not been weaned, and she soon settled into her new environment. But at two years old, the skin around her eyes started to look a little inflamed.

The keepers provided topical treatments and cleaned the eyes but, after a noticeable spread of the inflammation, Matilda was transferred to the Melbourne Veterinary Specialist Centre for allergy testing.

To determine the cause of the inflammation, specialists injected a range of know antigens under Matilda’s skin and observed her for reactions. Once ants were identified as the cause, specialists got to work on developing an allergen-specific vaccine that was unique to her. She then underwent a period of ‘desensitisation’.

‘Matilda’s treatment plan required her vaccine to be given in small, regular doses, exposing her to enough of the allergen to cause an immune response but not so much that it would cause an adverse reaction,’ a spokesperson for Healesville Sanctuary explains. ‘In short, Matilda’s immune system was being trained to learn how to manage and respond to the identified allergens.

‘While time-consuming, this process of desensitisation has been highly effective and become a lifelong solution for Matilda’s allergies.’

Matilda responded well to the treatment and has now been vaccine-free for six months. Thought to be the world’s first allergic echidna, keepers are optimistic that she will now go on to live a long and allergy-free life.

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Endangered turtles rescued from smugglers

News Story 1
 A group of endangered turtles have found a new home at London Zoo after being rescued from smugglers.

The four big-headed turtles arrived at the zoo at the end of last year, after smugglers tried to illegally import them to Canada, labelled as toys.

One of the turtles, named Lady Triệu after a Vietnamese warrioress, has moved to a new exhibit in the zoo’s reptile house. She is the only one of her kind in a UK zoo.

Big-headed turtles have such large heads that they cannot pull them back into their shells. To compensate, they have armour plating from head to tail and a very sharp beak to fend off predators. They are ranked number 18 on ZSL’s EDGE of Existence reptile list, which puts threatened species at the forefront of conservation action. Image © ZSL  

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RCVS Fellowship board chair elections get underway

Voting for the 2019 RCVS Fellowship Chair election is now underway. This year four candidates are standing for election, including Dr Robert Huey, Professor John Innes, Professor Liz Mossop and Professor Ian Ramsey.

The Chair will attend and preside over Fellowship meetings and take the lead in consolidating the Fellowship’s position as the learned society of the RCVS. Fellows will receive an email containing a link to the online voting form, as well as candidates’ details and manifestos. Voting closes at 5pm on Thursday, 5 September.