WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS, VETERINARIANS, AND
WILDLIFE DISEASE SPECIALISTS:
NEED AND MECHANISMS FOR IMPROVED
Michael Hutchins, Ph.D.
The Wildlife Society
•Diseases that affect wildlife,
domestic animals and
humans are big news.
•Some of this is driven by
legitimate concern and some
by ignorance, irrational fear,
and media hype.
•The important questions are:
-Who will be a voice of reason in
a world of sensationalist
-Who will educate the public and
key decision makers about
both real and imagined
NEW CULTURAL ICONS?
• Disease organisms are
even becoming cultural
• Who hasn’t heard of Bird
Flu, Ebola, or Monkey
• “Popular” diseases now
have their own line of
DISEASE IS A FACT OF LIFE
WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE NOW?
Risks may be greater now, due to:
-Dense human, domestic animal, and wildlife
-Close proximity between humans, domestic
animals, and wildlife.
-Global travel and transport of organisms (and
-Emerging and evolving disease organisms.
-Elimination of many diseases from domestic
-Human activities, such as translocation,
baiting and supplemental feeding, and private
breeding/hunting facilities, which artificially
concentrate animals and increase the risk of
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AND
• The implications for wildlife
conservation are clear.
• Disease or its management is
another factor that could
drive wildlife populations
• Small populations are at great
• Real or perceived health risks
to humans and domestic
animals also affect our ability
to conserve wildlife.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Possible responses to disease outbreaks:
•Assess risk to humans, domestic animals, and
threatened or endangered species.
•Cull affected individuals or populations to halt
spread of the disease.
• Reduce density to reduce the chance of
•Treat affected individuals or populations to halt
spread of the disease.
•Do not intervene, simply monitor and let the
disease run its course.
What we actually can do is affected by context:
knowledge (or lack thereof), existing
technology, logistics, and human attitudes and
WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT IT?
•How much intervention is
necessary, effective, or desirable?
•What are the evolutionary impacts
of intervention on population
•We should realize that wildlife-
human-domestic animal diseases
are an ecological issue, featuring
complex interactions between host,
agent and environment.
•In some cases, doing nothing
maybe the best strategy for the
WHO SHOULD BE
ADDRESSING THIS ISSUE?
•Veterinarians, other wildlife
disease specialists, and
•Wildlife biologists/ managers/
conservationists and their
-Key decision makers.
WHAT WILDLIFE VETERINARIANS /OTHER
WILDLIFE DISEASE SPECIALISTS
BRING TO THE TABLE
bring their knowledge of
and ability to diagnose
and treat disease.
-Pathologists bring their
ability to detect and study
reasons for mortality.
their knowledge of how
diseases spread through
and between populations.
BRING TO THE TABLE
•Wildlife biologists/ managers
-hands-on experience with
-their knowledge of wildlife
biology, including social
organization and behavior,
demography, and movement
-knowledge of ecology, habitat
-knowledge of how to
WHAT WILDLIFE VETS/DISEASE SPECIALISTS AND
CAN DO TOGETHER
• Jointly develop science-based
solutions to real or perceived wildlife
• Work together to implement solutions
• Educate the media, public and key
• Lobby for appropriate policy and
necessary funding to address wildlife
EXAMPLE: UNIVERSITY OF TENNESEE’S
AMPHIBIAN DISEASE PROGRAM
• UT team led by Matt Gray,
Debra Miller and others is
studying the relationship
between cattle, water quality,
disease organisms (E. coli
and Rana virus), and
• Involves both field and
• Example of effective
cooperation between wildlife
biologists, vets and disease
How can wildlife vets, disease specialists
and biologist/managers better
Improved Communication and
-Join each other’s organizations.
-Attend each other’s conferences.
-Publish in each other’s journals, popular
magazines, and newsletters.
-Organize and participate in relevant cross-
disciplinary training workshops.
-Serve on appropriate collaborative
working groups or committees (e.g.,
TWS’ Wildlife Diseases Working
TWS WILDLIFE DISEASE
• A forum for wildlife
veterinarians to interact,
• Current MOU between TWS
and the Wildlife Disease
organization that represents
vets, other disease
specialists and biologists
with an interest in wildlife
FOR COOPERATION (cont.)
Combine expertise in collecting and
analyzing information on wildlife
• What do we know about a given
• Does it occur naturally or is it
• How does it spread and what are
its effects on individuals and
• What are the real risks to
humans, domestic animals, and
• What are the options (if any) for
• Should we monitor?
• Should we intervene?
• If so, when and how?
REVIEWING THE SCIENCE
•TWS’ Technical Report process
could provide a model for
•Interdisciplinary panels of
experts are convened to
review what we know about a
particular issue and to make
•Reports are edited, produced
•Science-based reports provide
the basis for policy statements
and press releases.
GETTING INFORMATION TO
THE PUBLIC AND KEY DECISION MAKERS
•Develop joint policy
statements (based on
• Develop joint press releases.
•Develop summary reports and
fact sheets for key decision
• Publish in popular
•Lobby key decision makers for
improved policies and make
the case for sufficient state
and federal funding.
• Diseases that affect wildlife,
domestic animals and humans
deserve increased attention.
• However, there is great opportunity
for misinformation, sensationalism,
and knee-jerk decision making.
• Existing networks of wildlife
and other wildlife disease specialists
could help find solutions,
particularly through collaboration.
• All have critical and unique
expertise, that when combined,
make them powerful allies.
• The results of this collaboration
should extend beyond the field and
into the realms of information
gathering, policy development, and
Bird flu cure public relations.