Home > Mass Animal Deaths, Pestilence > Australia: Mass Deaths of Racehorses Continue to Defy Scientific Explanation Despite Exhaustive Testing

Australia: Mass Deaths of Racehorses Continue to Defy Scientific Explanation Despite Exhaustive Testing


By Frank Robson – “When a stranger rang Debbie Lee and her partner, Steve Hogno, to ask if they’d like to race their beloved quarter horses at a country club resort, the pair thought their dreams were finally coming true.

‘We said, ‘Oh boy, we sure would!” Lee recalls. ‘The guy who rang said he even knew of a property near the resort where we could keep our horses, and Steve and I couldn’t wait to check it out.’

The caller was Ian Howard, part of a consortium planning to restore the long-closed Kooralbyn Valley Resort near Beaudesert in south-east Queensland and set up regular quarter horse sprint races. Late last month, after meeting Howard and inspecting the proposed agistment block – “It seemed like the perfect spot” – Lee and Hogno moved 25 horses from land they rented in Toowoomba to the Kooralbyn Valley property.

But less than a fortnight after the healthy young horses were released to roam their picturesque new 81-hectare home – with three dams and a running stream – they began dying at an unprecedented rate. By Wednesday, six days after the first mysterious deaths on the unoccupied property were reported to the RSPCA by passers-by, all but four of the quarter horses, uninsured, were dead. And despite exhaustive testing by Biosecurity Queensland, the mass deaths continue to defy scientific explanation.

The most likely cause is thought to be paralysis ticks (up to 50 were found on each dead or stricken animal), especially rampant after last summer’s flooding, combined with the fact the prized horses came from a tick-free area and had no immunity to tick toxin.

‘No one told us about this danger,’ a devastated Lee said this week. ‘Steve and I loved these horses; we’d never have taken them there if we’d known about the killer ticks – it would have been like sticking a child who’d never been exposed to colds and flu in with a bunch of sick people.”

But horse trainer Hogno is far from convinced ticks are the real culprits. Employed as a mining supervisor in a remote part of Western Australia, Hogno flew back to Brisbane last week to inspect the dead and dying horses.

‘With tick poisoning, the paralysis always works forward from the hindquarters and tail,’ the veteran horseman said. ‘But in all of these cases the paralysis started from the head. Also, no one has ever heard of a case where so many animals have died so suddenly. Tick deaths occur over quite a prolonged period, yet many of these horses were dead within an hour or two of going down.'” Read more.

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