TB education for hunters — Joe's story


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Joe Taurima, Otago hunter: I was out shooting on a property and I came across a deer and shot it. Went up to it, throated it, ringed it, opened up the paunch. All we could see was, just estimating, about 50 different growths within the intestines and stomach in that area. After 50 years of hunting, I had never encountered this before. Both of us were repulsed by the sight of it and we didn't want to take it to our families and our friends to eat the meat. But to carry on from that, do you just kick it under a gorse bush and walk away, or is there something else we should be doing?

Steve Coll, AsureQuality: Leave any carcasses that you think may be diseased on site. Call the 0800 number and we'll come out and investigate and take samples, and we'll dispose of the carcass.

Nick Wadworth, Southland farmer: Don't be afraid to contact OSPRI or tell the farmer for a start anyway. And then we can get the ball rolling with nailing down what it is.

Steve: Main thing to remember is that we're actually dealing with a disease that humans can catch. It is TB, or a form of TB. And we can catch it, and it is detrimental to our health. So therefore we want to make sure it's not spread round one area to the next. Where it is, we want to try and contain it so we can deal with it and get rid of it in those areas.

Nick: The expectation is to leave the guts where they are, and obviously, even if you have done a thorough investigation of the carcass and the guts, you don't know 100% that there's no TB in it.

Steve: There's always that chance that the animal could be infected. Everything that we can leave behind on the place where you've been hunting, is left behind. If you're going to take anything away, we want it disposed in an offal pit. We want it buried, or we want it taken to a rubbish dump where it will be covered, and there's no risk of it being spread. The last thing we want to see is them being disposed on the road side, or in a gully or something like that.

Joe: The disposal of a pig's head from one property that you caught it on to another property that you choose to drop it on, can cause the spread of the infection of TB.

Nick: So if we ended up getting TB in because for some reason it was a strain from outside of the area, going by history, potentially it could have been a hunter that's brought it in, whether they've dumped guts from another region. We'd seriously consider not letting hunters back on, so the private guys are probably the most at risk, which is, I know that sounds a bit rough, but that's just the hard line of farming, which is a business at the end of the day. Getting TB free is pretty hard to get enthusiastic about if you're not actively farming, but like we're not going to get rid of the deer, we're not going to get rid of the pigs, we're trying to keep the animals there, but we just want the infection gone, cos we don't want the infection getting into our cattle herds every year like it used to be. We don't want to go back to that stage.

Joe: I think one of the main things that challenges me and my behaviors as a hunter, and that's about respecting the access that I've got to hunt this place and not abuse another property by taking it there and potentially infecting that area as well. So I think as a hunter we need to own that, and we need to change our habits so that we can assist in the stop of the spread of TB in our regions. Where we live. And where we take our meat from.

What is bovine TB?

Bovine TB is an infectious disease that infects the lymph nodes in an animal’s head and body, as well as the lungs, liver and other organs (or offal). In New Zealand, TB outbreaks in beef and dairy cattle or deer herds can cause financial issues for farmers. Any stock infected with TB needs to be slaughtered, and farmers have restrictions placed on moving and selling their stock. This can put their livelihoods — and our export market — at risk.

At OSPRI, our goal is to eradicate TB from all host animals in New Zealand by 2055. As a hunter, you can help us achieve this by ensuring you know what to do when reporting, handling and disposing of animals you suspect are infected with TB.

How TB spreads

TB spreads easily between animals, and possums are often the source of outbreaks in New Zealand. Possums, as well as stoats, ferrets and pigs, can contract TB through scavenging an infected carcass.

Once they’re infected, they can pass TB on to other animals like cattle and deer. For example, if TB bacteria is present in their lungs, their breath may be infectious. As cattle and deer are naturally curious, they'll sniff possums that stray onto farmland, and can become infected that way. This is often how TB spreads through both domestic and wild animals.

How to identify TB

In wild pigs, TB infection is most often found in the lymph nodes (glands) under the jaw and alongside the intestines.

How to inspect a wild pig for TB


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Steve Coll, AsureQuality: Pigs are a good scavenger, and therefore they are feeding on dead animals that might've died from TB. They're a good indicator of whether there is disease in the area.

Joe Taurima, Otago hunter: Now I don't know how to tell if the pig's got TB or not.

Steve: If a pig's got TB it's very, very highly likely that it is in the head. There's 6 glands that we'll look for and we're actually looking for pus, a yellow cheesy pus, which is in the glands. If you find something in a pig's head, just stop. Double bag it, put on the dog tucker freezer, give us a call. If you're on a farm and you're not the farmer or landowner, give the farmer a yell, he'll put you in the right direction there.

Joe: Just as we're having a yarn, there's another thing that worries us as hunters, pig hunters, deer hunters. And that's about recognising whether an animal's got a disease and what effect that's going to have on the edibility of the meat.

Steve: If you found something in the carcass itself, I wouldn't take that animal home, I would leave it there, I would let TBfree (OSPRI) know or the landowner know, and I would not consume it. When it comes to the risk of consuming that meat yourself, or worse still giving potentially diseased meat to your children, you don't want to go there, for the sake of a pig. It's quite simple to check out, to see whether that animal has got a lesion or not, and we can do that. Grab a knife and we'll just take you through some of the places that we look. With the pigs, what we do is we skin down the top here.

Joe: You going hard on the bone, are you?

Steve: Not too hard on the bone. You're sort of trying to stick more to the, the skin rather than the bone.

Joe: OK.

Steve: Try to leave as much meat on there as possible, on the skin. Yeah, that'll do, about there. Now we're looking for, just in the point of the jaw, on the inside there, you're looking for a gland in there, and there it goes there. Now, just the consistency of the gland is a bit different from everything else there, and we just slice that up. When we slice it up, we're just looking for any pus or anything there. And that one looks quite clean. So if we start over here more, then we cut back towards you, just slicing, looking.

Joe: Find the gland first?

Steve: Find the gland first.

Joe: Haven't found it yet.

Steve: Keep on slicing, a bit deeper, back this way.

Joe: That it there?

Steve: Might be it there, slice that and see whether that's it.

Joe: Yep, that's it alright.

Steve: Now just slice that, and we're just looking for a ...

Joe: And that's 1 of 6 you said?

Steve: That's 1 of 6.

Joe: And the other 5 are in the head as well?

Steve: Yep.

Joe: And that's right on the corner of the jaw bone.

Steve: It is, yes. OK, turn the head around, facing the other way. And that gland there has a buddy on this side.

Joe: OK. Well, I haven't found anything undesirable yet.

Steve: The main thing is, is when you start and you take the skin off the jaw, you try to leave as much meat on the rest of the head, so we're not actually cutting those glands out. So they're actually still left behind so we can check them. The other thing is, if you're taking the head off to take home, don't go cutting too close to the jaw. We like to have a bit of meat left on the animal round the bottom of the jaw, because the next gland that we are looking for is in there, in the corner there. So you'll skin down the side of the jaw, and from the point of the jaw there, we are going to cut in around the jaw itself. So we're going in around the jaw and we're pulling this meat off here because we're after that gland there. There's a gland just in there, under the jaw. See it there? I think that's it there. Just give that a slice.

Joe: Yep, that's it all right. There's nothing there eh?

Steve: No, that's all good. Can we look there? There it goes there. Yeah.

Joe: All right. We'll give that a pass, will we?

Steve: That's a pass, right. And now you do the same on the other side of the jaw. These lymph nodes that we're looking at, these glands are 3 sets of double. Down the bottom line of the jaw again, it just pops out like that.

Joe: That it there?

Steve: Yeah, popped up.

Joe: It's a good pig!

Steve: 4 down, 2 to go! Now the next one is in below the tongue. So what you need to do is, pull the tongue back, like this. Very, very small. Just there. Quite often, this is the one where we will find TB in.

Joe: There's 1 on each side?

Steve: 1 on each side. Yup. There we go, right there. Very, very small, they're on each side. If there's something in them, they will swell up and you'll see the pus, because the bacteria gets filtered into the glands, and the immune system of the body will start attacking the TB, and it will swell up and you'll get quite a big, reasonable size lesion.

Joe: Wow. All right. I'll see if I can find it. Right through the esophagus ...

Steve: Try to get in, down through there. That's it. Yeah, just looking down the side there. Yep, see there, in there.

Joe: Wow, they're small.

Steve: They are! You may have trouble seeing them at all, but like I said, if they are infected with TB, they'll swell up and you'll see the pus in them, and they'll be quite distinctive.

Joe: All clear on that side.

Steve: Yep.

Joe: I can't see it on this side.

Steve: Just slice through there, and you'll see it there.

Joe: That's it there, is it?

Steve: Yup.

Joe: Well, we've got a couple of good ones here.

Steve: Yep. That's safe to eat, pork tonight. Now, if you did find something, I'd bag it up, rubbish bag or something like that, a bin liner, something like that. And just to be on the safe side, I'd bag it twice. It'd be safe enough to stick in the dog tucker freezer or something. I'd ring TBfree (OSPRI). Most people are carrying a smart phone these days, if you could get a GPS co-ordinate, that would be good. But we need to have accurate information about where that animal came from.

Joe: A lot of hunters, they want the jaw, cos the jaw's got the tusks in them, and some of the tusks are quite valued as a prize. So they actually extract the jaw by doing more than what we've done. Get the meat off the cheeks and things like that, and then boil up the bone. So we're actually digging in here with our knives and taking the tongue out, and skinning it off like this. And then we end up with this bottom jaw and we throw it in a billy, and boil it, hit it with the water blaster and then hang it in the shed.

Steve: If we can have...

Joe: And we haven't looked at any of the lymph nodes in the process of doing that.

Steve: Quite often if there's TB there, and you're taking the jaw out, you'll find it. The lesions are swollen up, you're making the cuts there, around here. And you're going down through there, so if you do find something, stop. Bag it. We save the jaws. If a person wants a jaw saved and sent back to them, we do that on a regular basis, but we want to see the jaw, because that's what you use for the ageing. The age of the pig is quite important because it lets us know how long that the disease has been in the area for. So we have a pig that's 6 months of age, and it's got TB, that's relatively a sure thing to say that it has got the disease in that local area. Also if the pig is 6 months of age, the disease has been in that area within the last 6 months. As opposed to finding TB in a pig that could be 3 or 4 years of age, might've caught the disease in another area totally. And you know, there might not be any more infection in the possums and ferrets in that area, but you don't know because a pig is 2 or 3 years of age or whatever. So the age of the pig is very important.

Joe: Thanks Steve, for showing me how to check out the lymph nodes in the pig's head. It makes me feel better and more confident about taking healthy meat home to my family and my friends to eat. So that's a good place for me. If I inspected this pig and I found an infection or more infections?

Steve: Ring the 0800 number (0800 482 463). Bag it, we will come out and we will get it. We have got staff pretty well covered throughout New Zealand. We'll sample it, no cost.

Joe: And this is the bit you want, the head?

Steve: The head. If it's an infected carcass, we will take it. We'll get rid of that for you. That is not an issue. This is all just a part of the eradication of bovine TB from New Zealand.

In deer, the lymph nodes behind the throat and at the join between the windpipe and the lungs are the most common site for TB.

How to inspect a wild deer for TB


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Steve Coll, AsureQuality: Just checking out a deer — head, lungs and liver, and that, just looking for the basic spots where we'd possibly find TB, the primary sites where it would enter the deer. And here we've got the head here, and just on the point of the jaw here. If you just slice in through there, there is a gland in there, on each side, we have a bit of a close up look there. There it goes there. And what we're looking for is any pus, anything bright yellow, anything that's a bit gritty on the knife, that's a sign that could be TB. We go around here. We cut down around the point of the jaw here, and just in there, there's another gland in there. And there we slice it up again. We're just looking for any pus or anything. You go to the other side, same thing again. Just in there, just slice away. And just even if you don't get onto the gland itself, if you're slicing away in the general sort of area, if its there, you'll see it. Then, we'll pull the tongue out here, and just down in here, through the throat, we've got some more glands in here. Slice them up there too. There's 2 there, 1 on each side.

Joe Taurima, Otago hunter: So these 6 are in the same location as what you showed me on the pig?

Steve: Yes, exactly the same spot. If we move on from there, we'll have a look at some lungs. So when you pull the lungs out, it's quite important to try and
run the knife down the backbone. So you get the whole aorta out there. And when we go do the lungs, you're sort of just looking in below the aorta. There's a big gland that runs down there. And, if we pick up the lungs, the front of the lobe, we cut in there, there's another gland in there. Just slice through it, the colour's a bit different from everything else in there. And then what we do is, you make a couple of big incisions into the lungs there. We're just looking for any lumps or pus or anything like that. Another good spot to look for, is in the liver here. And quite often the liver might have something in it, mainly the head and the lungs, those are the main spots, but you can check out the liver as well, since you've got it out here. You're just cutting into the glands, up around the top of the liver there, just looking for pus. You can even put a cut through the liver and have a good look in there too. And the rest of the carcass, quite basically, if there's anything in there that smells, looks abnormal, just back off a wee bit, slow down and yeah, take your time. You know what's normal, what's abnormal. Anything that doesn't look right or smell right, same with any food, is you sort of exercise a bit of caution.

Joe: Yep.

Steve: Now, when an animal catches TB, like a deer, the primary sites of infection is through the head, and you're more than likely to find it in the head itself, in the glands or in the lungs. Those are the main spots. So if you're going to have a quick look, those are the places to look. If you find something, stop! Take a couple of pics, everyone carries a phone these days. Don't take it away. Just leave it there. If you're on a farm, inform the farmer. If you've got the phone with you, take the GPS coordinates on your phone. If you are somewhere where you're not meant to be, still take the GPS coordinates, leave it there. Get a hold of OSPRI, we are interested in the information. We keep things confidential. With it being a zoonotic disease, TB can be transferred from the animals to humans. I'd hate the thought of actually taking the disease home and passing on to the kids. I know it would be a very rare occurrence, but there's that risk there.

Joe: Yeah. So I've got no ambition to take a deer carcass, the meat home and share it amongst my family and my friends if I think, in any way, that it might
be contaminated. No, ive got no desire to do that whatsoever, yeah. So its good, it's good for me to, to sort of come to a place where I've got confidence in sharing that or not.

Steve: So at the end of the day, these are places that we're going to possibly find it. In the point of the jaw here, in the gland, in there, in behind the throat there, and then we're looking at the lungs here. In under that big, white aorta there you've got a row of glands down there, and at the front of each of the lobes of the lungs, just pick them up with a lobe and just, in there, just cut away. Just keep slicing away. You'll find the gland in there somewhere. In the other side there too, but at the end of the day, the main message is to, we don't want potentially infected offal, body parts, whatever, taken off the farm. If anything is found, tell the landowner, let OSPRI know, take a few photos, and just a bit of good personal hygiene. That's all that's required.

The infection will usually be in the form of pus-filled abscesses or lesions that look like whitish lumps.

If you suspect an animal has TB

If you see evidence of TB in an animal carcass, or if you’re concerned the animal may be infected:

  • leave the animal’s carcass where it was killed
  • let the the farmer or landowner know about it
  • note the location of the carcass and take a photo of it if you can
  • report the animal to us at 0800 482 463 or info@ospri.co.nz.

We’ll send someone out to investigate as soon as possible. They’ll take samples from the animal to test for TB, and will dispose of the carcass properly.

Good practice when hunting

It's important to dispose of animal carcasses carefully when hunting.

  • Remove the head or any unwanted parts and leave these where the animal was killed. The head and upper neck is the most likely site of infection, so leaving the head behind will make the rest of the carcass easier and safer to move.
  • If you do take the head or whole carcass out with you, make sure you dispose of it properly. You can take it to an official offal facility or dispose of it in a farmer’s offal pit, if you have an agreement with them to use it.

If you dump heads or any other unwanted body parts, possums or other scavengers could find them. This could establish (or re-establish) infection in local possum populations, and lead to the disease passing to nearby cattle and deer herds.

Keeping yourself safe

Bovine TB can also infect humans. While the risk is small, you could get TB when cutting up infected wild pigs or deer. To lower your risk:

  • use disposable thin rubber gloves when cutting up animals
  • wash your hands well (ideally with a disinfectant) before eating or drinking
  • wash your bloodstained hunting clothes and gear separately to other clothes
  • clean your knife often, particularly when moving from skinning and gutting the animal to butchering it.

If you think you've been exposed to TB, contact your doctor or medical practitioner.

Dogs can also get infected with TB. We don’t recommend feeding raw pig heads or other offal to your dogs.