The role of wild deer in the transmission of diseases of livestock


In Australia, wild deer, including Fallow, Sambar, Red, Rusa, Chital and Hog deer, can feed on agricultural landscapes and, therefore, pose a biosecurity risk to the agricultural sector as potential carriers of important livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). 

FMD is highly contagious and is the exotic disease of greatest significance to Australian agriculture. A large multi-state outbreak of FMD in Australia will result in an estimated direct economic loss of AU$52 billion over 10 years, with a current FMD freedom status underpinning a nationally significant annual trade in live animal and meat exports.  

A spatially explicit, multi-species model has been developed (Australian Animal Disease Spread Model; AADIS) to predict the movement of FMD virus through various Australian agricultural industries. However, this model currently does not include virus transmission between livestock and wildlife populations, including deer. The role of wildlife in the transmission of FMD has been demonstrated overseas, but has not been evaluated against wild deer populations within the unique farming systems and environment of Australia. 

This project will directly investigate the risk posed by deer to the livestock industry as hosts for exotic disease, using the transmission of endemic viral disease(s) between deer and livestock as an example.  This project will also evaluate the effectiveness of possible mitigation strategies should an outbreak occur. This will be achieved by estimating deer population density adjacent to farms, quantifying their level of interactions with livestock, the level of connectivity between local deer populations and by estimating the cross-species infection rate between deer and livestock species.  





  1. evaluating deer densities at the forest/farm interface  
  2. assessing the level of interactions between wild deer and domestic livestock and  
  3. quantifying the degree of connectivity between deer populations.

Project Leader

Dr Dave Ramsey
Project Team
  • Dr Dave Ramsey, ARI
  • Dr Carlo Pacioni, ARI 
  • Mr Luke Woodford, ARI 
  • Dr Karla Jayne Helbig, LaTrobe University 
  • Dr Teresa Carvalho, LaTrobe University 
  • Dr Jaimie Hunnam DEDJTR VIC 
  • Dr Andrew Woolnough, DEDJTR VIC 
  • Dr Dave Forsyth, NSW DPI  
Project Partners
  • Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI), Victorian Government
  • Victorian Government Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources  (VIC DEDJTR)
  • NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI)
  • La Trobe University 


February 2019: 

Faecal, blood and DNA samples have been collected from deer species across Australia and analysis undertaken to confirm species. 

Serum (blood) samples were screened for the presence of antigens and antibodies against Pestivirus and Bovine herpesvirus-1 using commercial serological tests. Antigens and antibodies against Pestivirus were detected in a very small number of the samples, while no serological evidence of Bovine herpesvirus-1 were detected in the samples. 

For a subset of the blood samples collected, blood smears were performed on site at the time of blood collection. Microscopy examination of 50 blood smears revealed the presence of several morphological forms, possibly compatible with blood-protozoan. The corresponding blood samples were screened by PCR for known blood parasites. Published primers targeting conserved regions of seven parasitic genera commonly infecting livestock species were selected for molecular identification. PCR conditions and protocols were optimised to enable large scale screening, and analysis is currently ongoing.  

Research papers: 

Cripps, J. K., Pacioni, C., Scroggie, M. P., Woolnough, A. P., & Ramsey, D. S. (2019). Introduced deer and their potential role in disease transmission to livestock in Australia. Mammal Review, 49(1), 60-77.  

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