AboutZoos, Since 2008


Why wildlife health is impor­tant for conservation

pub­lished 16 Decem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 03 Novem­ber 2014

Wildlife health is an impor­tant and grow­ing, yet often over­looked, com­po­nent of the con­ser­va­tion of wild species.

Just like humans and domes­tic ani­mals, wildlife are sus­cep­ti­ble to intra– and inter-​species dis­eases that can cause mor­bid­ity (the num­ber of indi­vid­u­als in poor health in a given time period) and mor­tal­ity. In nat­ural robust or resilient pop­u­la­tions, this is just part and par­cel of life, and in some species impor­tant in nat­ural pop­u­la­tion con­trol or for con­tribut­ing to pop­u­la­tion genetic health.

Regret­tably this sit­u­a­tion is becom­ing increas­ingly rare with human-​induced global change includ­ing loss of pop­u­la­tions and even species. Many of the dri­vers of bio­di­ver­sity loss, such as habi­tat loss and degra­da­tion and over­ex­ploita­tion of species, may put wildlife at increased risk of dis­ease spread through var­i­ous stres­sors and from new con­tact with other pop­u­la­tions, other species or envi­ron­men­tal pollutants.

African huntingdog pup EdinbZooSev­eral recent wildlife health con­cerns have been widely doc­u­mented and have required exten­sive efforts for dis­ease pre­ven­tion and con­trol. Over 100 wild species are known to be sus­cep­ti­ble to rabies virus, and it has caused sig­nif­i­cant die-​offs of endan­gered African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pic­tus) and Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simen­sis).

Infec­tions with the chytrid fun­gus Batra­chochytrium den­dro­ba­tidis (Bd) and ranaviruses have resulted in large-​scale Amphib­ian declines, some species even went extinct due to Bd. Global wildlife trade has been shown to be a main fac­tor in the global spread of the fungus.

Influen­zas have been impli­cated in die-​offs of species rang­ing from Water­fowl to Har­bour Seals (Phoca vit­ulina). Tox­i­c­ity from envi­ron­men­tal con­t­a­m­i­nants can cause acute or long-​term ill­ness in wildlife, as seen with the pes­ti­cide DDT’s role in crit­i­cal Bald Eagle (Hali­aee­tus leu­co­cephalus) declines and the vet­eri­nary drug diclofenac or keto­pro­fen in Vul­ture (Gyps spp.) decline.

While wildlife health is a grow­ing con­cern for the con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity, there is still lim­ited sci­en­tific knowl­edge around the over­all health risks for wild species, and species die-​offs often go undi­ag­nosed. Base­line and ongo­ing mon­i­tor­ing of the health of wild species can pro­vide impor­tant and ben­e­fi­cial infor­ma­tion to pro­mote the con­ser­va­tion of species. Early detec­tion of dis­ease threats allows for rapid inter­ven­tions, such as vac­ci­na­tion cam­paigns, to pre­vent spread in a pop­u­la­tion, and detec­tion in one species can serve as sen­tinels for poten­tial spread to other species.

Sam­ples rou­tinely col­lected for con­ser­va­tion efforts can often be tested for com­mon dis­eases or banked for future test­ing, and health assess­ments can be inte­grated into exist­ing cap­ture pro­grams (e.g. for track­ing device place­ment). Once we know more about wildlife health and dis­ease risks, we can work with wildlife man­agers, land use plan­ners, and a wide array of other stake­hold­ers to pre­vent or min­imise risks to wildlife.

Strength­en­ing infra­struc­ture for wildlife health will allow us to more proac­tively pre­vent disease-​related species declines. The mem­bers of the IUCN Wildlife Health Spe­cial­ist Group are actively work­ing to pro­mote the health of wild pop­u­la­tions, and we encour­age the entire con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity to join us in this effort.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at IUCN. Orig­i­nal text is edited for con­tent in one place.
(Source: IUCN Blog by Cather­ine Macha­l­aba
, 03.12.2013)

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