Thursday, September 2, 2010

Australian Feral Deer Spread Ticks and Lyme Disease


21 Jul, 2010 07:27 AM

It's a mystery that has left the experts scratching their heads.

A film technician, David Roberts, is adamant that a herd of deer roaming wild in Ku-ring-gai National Park was responsible for spreading ticks infested with Lyme disease to his former employee, Karl McManus, during a shoot for Home and Away three years ago.

Mr McManus died last week from complications relating to Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can cause paralysis and profound neurological damage. He was bitten by a tick during filming at Waratah Park, the former home of Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo.

The federal government denies Lyme disease can be transmitted in Australia, saying the organisms that cause it - three species of the genus borrelia - are not carried here by wildlife, livestock or parasites.

Both Waratah Park and rangers from Ku-ring-gai National Park deny the existence of deer, known to carry borrelia, but Mr Roberts's colleague Brett Wilbe maintains he has seen the animals within 500 metres of Waratah's front gate. He has worked on seven television shows in the area in the past seven years.

''I've definitely seen them when we've had early morning starts. And my father lived in the area in the '60s and he's talked about seeing them.''

Mr Roberts is furious that Channel Seven, the producers of Home and Away, refused to take any responsibility for Mr McManus's illness, saying it knew that crew and cast were repeatedly bitten by ticks on set.

''They were pulling ticks off people day in, day out,'' he said. ''We all got bitten.''

But whether those ticks were feeding on infected deer is in contention. Mandy Beaumont, from the Waratah Park support group, said no deer had ever been kept at Waratah Park. ''I've never even seen any in the area and I've been here more than 40 years.''

A former Skippy actor, Tony Bonner, who filmed at Waratah Park for three years, was also perplexed. ''It's just not deer country,'' he said.

The chief inspector of the RSPCA, David O'Shannessy, said although deer are found in other parts of Sydney, such as the Royal National Park, he was unaware of any in Ku-ring-gai. A spokeswoman from the National Parks and Wildlife Service said she had never seen evidence of them. ''And we'd know. We're out there all the time doing fox baiting.''

Channel Seven did not return calls yesterday. "

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