A number of horses across the Northern Territory have perished after succumbing to what is believed to be the effects of eating a toxic native plant.

Key points:

  • Indigofera, a native legume, is responsible for killing six horses on Waite River Station in the NT 
  • Symptoms include weight loss, toe dragging and loss of appetite
  • The toxin recently killed 24 dogs in Victoria after the animals ate contaminated pet meat 

At Waite River Station on the Utopian homelands in Central Australia, Dennis and Ley Kunoth have lost six out of 11 work and campdrafting horses this year, with poisoning from Indigofera believed to be the cause.

The same plant led to the deaths of 24 dogs in Victoria earlier this year after horse meat contaminated with indospicine was used in pet food.

Dennis and Ley Kunoth say their loss has been heartbreaking.

“We had an old mare that belonged to our youngest son. He was learning to ride on her, and she was just pretty crook,” Ms Kunoth said.

“We just didn’t really know what it was.”

After contacting their vet, it was suggested that Indigofera could be the culprit — but the family was not convinced.

“We hadn’t seen any around … so we went to the DPI and were given a book with all the species of plants,” she said.

“Indigofera was in the book … [we] read all the symptoms of what horses could have if they had Indigofera … so we knew then.” 

Symptoms include loss of appetite, depression, “toe dragging” and weight loss.

Man wearing jeans, red shirt and brown hate walks through dry grass.

Dennis Kunoth finds Indigofera on his property.(

ABC Rural: Xavier Martin 

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Good rain, bad growth

Indigofera has been more prevalent throughout 2021 than usual due to a bumper summer rain period, according to senior botanist for the NT Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security Peter Jobson.

“This is all due to the fact we had great rains in late summer [and those] are the sort of conditions that will fire this up and get it growing,” Mr Jobson said.

The native plant has different effects on different animals.

According to remote vet Campbell Costello horses are neurologically affected by the native plant.

“Horses are really susceptible to the neuron toxin, not so much to the liver toxin,” Dr Costello said.

A sick dog lies down

Brandy is one of more than 50 dogs that suffered liver toxicity after eating raw pet food containing horse meat.(

Supplied

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“Just because they don’t get liver disease doesn’t mean the toxin doesn’t build up in their meat … dogs are very susceptible to liver damage and the liver toxin.”.

Ley Kunoth is left to remember one of her favourite horses.

“You could do anything on her. Two of my kids learnt to ride on her, and Dean [youngest son] being only five or six at the time you know he had started camp drafting on her, she was his pride and joy.”

Posted , updated 

Native NT plant species kills horses on remote cattle station
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