The New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Association advised on Friday that ongoing Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) testing is providing optimism that the discovery of Theileria equi infection is a single, isolated case.
The horse concerned was imported to New Zealand by Cambridge Stud for breeding purposes in February 2019 and returned a suspected positive test for Theileria equi as part of standard export certification prior to onward shipment to Australia. Further MPI blood tests confirmed the horse was positive, although it had displayed no signs of illness in its time here.
At the time of import, the horse met all New Zealand’s requirements including testing negative for Theileria equi within the required 21 days before its shipment. It had also undergone full quarantine in the UK before export and in New Zealand on arrival.
Ministry scientists have been testing other horses at Cambridge Stud, whose cooperation and record keeping to enable this has been outstanding. This testing is to provide confidence that the operation is free of the organism, and that there has been no transmission of it within the farm.
All adult horses that were either paddock mates of the infected horse or had grazed the same pasture as the animal have tested negative for Theileria equi. Testing is ongoing on a wider group of adult animals associated with the stud.
Theileria equi is primarily spread from horse to horse by ticks. It is not infectious directly between horses, and the ticks that are known to transmit the disease are not a species present in New Zealand.
Agreed trade conditions for a number of countries that import New Zealand horses require veterinary certification stating that New Zealand is completely free of the disease to accept horses from here.
As statements of country freedom cannot currently be given, alternate measures now need to be agreed until such time New Zealand can regain this status.
MPI has been working closely with Australian authorities and has agreed an interim testing regime for individual horses to allow exports to Australia and via Australia to resume. This testing will incur an additional cost to exports as the testing requires specialist expertise and therefore is subcontracted to an Australian laboratory with these skills.
Airfreight companies have indicated that they are about to recommence but as above additional testing will be required.
Talks are also underway with other importing countries, and to date very good progress is being made.
The NZTBA would like to acknowledge the efforts of Cambridge Stud, MPI and the NZEHA in particularly Chairman Dr Ivan Bridge in dealing with this response.