Daily News Roundup

June 17, 2019

Image: ABC News

Monday June 17

An unknown virus is causing one of the country’s most unique animals to go blind.

Lumholtz’s tree kangaroos are only found in a small pocket of rainforest in far north Queensland, with most Australians not even knowing they exist.

Now the creatures which normally nestle high up in the treetops are being found in odd places on the Atherton Tablelands, west of Cairns, including schools, sheds and in the middle of roads, unable to see and confused.

A researcher has said the cause of the kangaroos’ vision was most likely caused by a virus potentially caused by changing climatic conditions.

Veterinarian Andrew Peters, a senior lecturer in wildlife health and pathology at Charles Sturt University, has been examining tissue from the affected animals and has found evidence of optic nerve and brain damage.

“We have some evidence to suggest that this may be a new viral infection, potentially even a new virus,” Dr Peters said.

“What we know is a lot of wildlife diseases, particularly new viral infections, are caused by changes to the environment.”

Karen Coombes who studied the species for her PhD and founded the Tree Roo Rescue and Conservation Centre, has been caring for injured tree kangaroos on her property near Malanda for two decades.

Most of the animals in her care are blind.

“Seven years ago, my husband and I would rescue a couple a year – mostly [after] dog attacks and car strikes,” Dr Coombes said.

“And then there was this one ‘roo in particular that I noticed was bumping into things.”

Dr Coombes said the tree kangaroos, which normally are near-impossible to spot in the treetops where they like, are being found in strange locations.

“Because they can’t see properly, they are getting confused and ending up in places where they shouldn’t be, like schools and backyard sheds,” she said.

She said she believed successive dry periods in the area had contributed to the species’ eye problems.

The marsupials only eat the leaves of the rainforest trees that they inhabit.

“The leaves are fairly toxic but because we have had drier-than-normal weather over the past seven years, the leaves are probably more toxic than normal,” Dr Coombes said.

“Because the trees are getting less water, these toxins might be concentrated more.”

Dr Andrews said the theory could be the reason for the marsupials going blind.

“It’s definitely a suggestion worth looking at,” he said.

“The most important thing is that we detect this early, work out what’s caused it and what’s behind that.”

“Then we can work with communities to start to build solutions and to help change the way kangaroos are behaving.”

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A top Melbourne transport cop has been left in hospital with serious head and rib injuries after being violently attacked at a train station on Saturday night.

Chris O’Neill, Transit and Public Safety Command Assistant Commissioner was kicked and punched in the head and chest near Heyington Railway Station in Toorak at about 5:30pm on Saturday.

The 60-year-old remained in hospital on Monday morning with serious head injuries and broken ribs.

Police said, O’Neill was unable to move his upper torso and was undergoing tests on his head.

Police are yet to make any arrests over the assault but have released images of two men they believe can assist them with their investigation.

Staff told investigators that they spoke to suspects on the train about antisocial behaviour before they left the carriage.

It is believed they assaulted Assistant Commissioner O’Neill shortly afterwards, then fled in an unknown direction.

Inspector Stephen O’Donnell said it appeared the men were “looking to cause trouble”.

“They were engaging in antisocial behaviour, they were drunk of drug-affected, they were causing issues onboard the train,” Inspector O’Donnell told a press conference yesterday.

The attack was “very unprovoked”.

One of the males was wearing a red baseball cap, grey jumper and black shorts, with the other wearing a white baseball cap, a grey jumper and cargo pants.

Police are appealing for the suspects to hand themselves in or for anyone that has any information to come forward.

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The wife of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu, has been ordered to pay a fine of 55,000 shekels ($21,000) for misusing state funds.

Her sentencing comes after she agreed to a plea bargain that ended the years-long saga of just one of the high-profile corruption cases involving the Prime Minister’s family.

The court ruling settled allegations Ms Netanyahu had misused $145,000 in state money on lavish meals.

She was indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust last year after the State Attorney’s Office accused her of running up large tabs at luxury restaurants while the official residence employed a full-time chef between the years 2010 and 2013.

The settlement saw her admit to a more minor charge of “intentionally exploiting the mistake of someone else”, specifically by misleading officials who didn’t realise she already benefited from chefs on the government payroll.

Under the terms of the bargain, Ms Netanyahu agreed to pay 10,000 shekels ($4,040) in fines and hand the remaining 45,000 shekels ($18,181) back to the state.

The settlement also halved the overspending charge.

However, the Prime Minister himself remains the main focus of the family’s legal troubles.

He is facing an indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending a hearing scheduled for early October.

He has pushed for a postponement and can still request an extension from the Supreme Court.  

The Prime Minister is accused of accepting lavish gifts from his billionaire friends and promising to promote advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in exchange for favourable coverage.

He denies wrongdoing, portraying himself as a victim of media-orchestration persecution against him and his family in an attempt to oust him from power.

Both the Prime Minister and his wife have a reputation for leading indulgent lives at the public’s expense.

The 60-year-old Ms Netanyahu in particular has been accused of excessive spending, using public money for her private, extravagant tastes and for abusive behaviour toward her personal staff.

A court ruled Ms Netanyahu mistreated a housecleaner and awarded the man $60,000 in damages, in 2016.

Another former employee is currently suing Ms Netanyahu for $90,000 in damages over mistreatment and harassment.

Her lawyer, Yossi Cohen, portrayed his client as a victim, saying she had “been put through hell” over the past four years with a public shaming campaign that was due only to her public standing.  

“Sara Netanyahu is today paying a heavy and painful personal cost to put an end to this witch hunt, and I hope that indeed this is the end of the story,” he said after the hearing.

Her husband has stood by her calling her a “true hero”, expressing how she had become a “punching bag” for their opponents.