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Veterinary Medicine International
Volume 2014, Article ID 361634, 13 pages
Research Article

Assessing the Effectiveness of Tuberculosis Management in Brushtail Possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), through Indirect Surveillance of Mycobacterium bovis Infection Using Released Sentinel Pigs

Landcare Research, P.O. Box 40, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand

Received 4 December 2013; Accepted 23 February 2014; Published 2 April 2014

Academic Editor: Richard Malik

Copyright © 2014 G. Nugent et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


In New Zealand, wild pigs acquire Mycobacterium bovis infection by scavenging tuberculous carrion, primarily carcasses of the main disease maintenance host, the brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). We investigated the utility of captive-reared, purpose-released pigs as sentinels for tuberculosis (TB) following lethal possum control and subsequent population recovery. Within 2-3 years of possum control by intensive poisoning, TB prevalence and the incidence rate of M. bovis infection in released sentinel pigs were lower than in an adjacent area where possums had not been poisoned. Unexpectedly, TB did not decline to near zero levels among pigs in the poisoned area, a fact which reflected an unanticipated rapid increase in the apparent abundance of possums. Monitoring infection levels among resident wild pigs confirmed that TB prevalence, while reduced due to possum control, persisted in the poisoned area at >20% among pigs born 2-3 years after poisoning, while remaining >60% among resident wild pigs in the nonpoisoned area. When fitted with radio-tracking devices, purpose-released pigs provided precise spatial TB surveillance information and facilitated effective killing of wild pigs when employed as “Judas” animals to help locate residents. Sentinel pigs offer value for monitoring disease trends in New Zealand, as TB levels in possums decline nationally due to large-scale possum control.