Strange foreign bodies,
roundworms, or a blockage in the bile duct –
truth is, vets in the Northern Territory
aren’t sure what killed one of
four captive spectacled hare wallabies
loss of a small, rare resident of the Northern
Territory Wildlife Park has left staff saddened
and a little puzzled.
Stuart Little, a four year old spectacled hare
wallaby, became acutely ill in June 2003.
Veterinarians did everything they could to save
him, but were unable to diagnose the mystery
condition before he died.
This is Stuart’s story.
The Spectacled Hare Wallaby (Lagorchestes
conspicillatus) is a small, nocturnal
mammal, common in some parts of Queensland, but
scattered in tropical grasslands in the Northern
Territory and Western Australia.
According to expert Sandy Ingleby from the
Australian Museum, the species is well adapted
to arid or seasonally arid environments due to a
low metabolic rate and an ability to produce a
highly concentrated urine.
In the wild, the spectacled hare wallaby lives
off grasses, herb foliage, fruit and seeds.
Stuart’s diet in captivity consisted of native
grasses, pelleted feed, fruit and vegetables.
According to the Australian Museum Management
Program Regional Census, there are only four
spectacled hare wallabies in captivity in
Australia. Prior to Stuart’s death, the
Northern Territory Wildlife Park was home to
three of them.
The species, which is listed as near threatened,
is usually quite timid but Stuart had been
hand-raised since birth and enjoyed occasional
At the end of June, a keeper noticed Stuart had
been off his food for about three days.
Veterinarian Jamin Farebrother examined Stuart.
“His temperature was normal but he seemed to be
in pain. We thought it might be neurological
so we decided to X-ray his spine,” Dr.
Stuart was placed under a general anaesthetic
and radiographs were taken. The radiographs
revealed some radiopaque pebble like substances
in the anterior abdomen and distal intestine.
They were easily palpated in the stomach
Dr Farebrother prescribed canola oil to promote
passage of the objects through the gut and
instructed keepers to examine Stuart's faeces
According to locum veterinarian Stephen Cutter,
Stuart soon perked up and began to pass soft
faeces – unfortunately, he crashed within a
week. When Dr. Cutter examined Stuart on June
30, he had collapsed.
“He was looking neurologic – he’d fall on his
face, he was twitchy and hypermetric,” Dr.
Intravenous fluids were given via Stuart’s tail
vein and blood was taken for investigation.
Stuart was given a course of enrofloxacin and
protexin, and a tetanus antitoxin was
administered as a precaution.
The blood test revealed an elevation in white
blood cells, particularly neutrophils.
Stuart fortunately tolerated hospitalisation and
treatment very well.
“Even when he was really sick he wanted to be
held.” Dr. Cutter says. The treatment
appeared to be working – by mid-July Stuart
seemed well on the road to recovery.
Ten day later keepers reported that Stuart’s
skin appeared very yellow.
“He was actually canary yellow. He was the
most yellow animal I have ever seen, especially
his mucous membranes and his eyes.” Dr. Cutter
The previous procedure was repeated – blood
sample were collected and Stuart was placed
under a general anaesthetic and radiographed to
determine whether the mysterious foreign bodies
had dissipated or whether they might be
obstructing the bile duct.
“It was confirmed that the foreign bodies had
moved, but they didn’t appear to be situated in
a manner that hamper the bile duct.” Dr Cutter
The veterinary team decided against a laparotomy
at this stage, continuing to opt for medical
management of the problem. Stuart was placed
on a course of enrofloxacin and
amoxicillin/clavulanic acid, as well as flunixin
for the pain. His condition improved once
again, but this time the improvement was
During the first week of August, Stuart crashed
“He was less jaundiced, but he’d gone right off
his food and wasn’t drinking. He literally
collapsed,” Dr Cutter says.
A laparotomy revealed a gut full of gas and
blood clots in the pelvis. There were also
worms present in the thoracic and abdominal
cavities, but nothing that corresponded with the
foreign bodies seen on earlier radiographs.
“He hadn’t passed anything that could be
construed as what we saw on the radiographs,”
Dr. Cutter says.
The team decided to euthanase Stuart and conduct
a full post mortem. Histopathological
examination of the liver revealed evidence of
biliary hyperplasia and biliary stasis,
consistent with the clinical finding of
jaundice, as well as evidence of increased red
cell destruction, suggested by haemosiderin
present in both Kupffer’s cells in the liver and
in the spleen.
Clearly Stuart had had some form of blockage of
the bile duct that was resolved by the time of
death, but the cause of the blockage and the
nature of the foreign bodies remains a mystery.
A parasitology report revealed the worms were
filaroid nematodes Breinlia boltoni. A
similar species is known to cause peritonitis in
“It is possible a worm could have become
entangled in the bile duct, but we will never
know,” Dr Cutter says.
This article is reproduced with the kind
permission of the Veterinarian Magazine as is
taken from their October 2003 issue.
Copyright remains with them and cannot be
reproduced without written consent. We also
offer our thanks to the author.
information can be found at