Emerging Diseases

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Emerging diseases--such as Ebola, SARS, West Nile virus, avian flu, and swine flu--clearly demonstrate the links between the health of wildlife, humans, and their domestic animals. The rise of many of these zoonotic diseases has been linked to the trade and consumption of wildlife by humans, and exacerbated by the transport of infected wildlife and humans across international borders. As wildlife trade and the development of wild lands put humans, livestock, and wild animals into closer contact, diseases have more opportunities to emerge and spread, with detrimental effects on human and animal health, biodiversity, and global economies. Alterations in global temperatures and precipitation due to climate change could likely encourage the movement of some bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses into previously inhospitable areas, possibly infecting new species in novel ways. Making matters worse, the loss of genetic diversity, stress, and fragmented habitat--all fueled by human activities--can increase a wildlife population’s vulnerability to deadly diseases.

Challenges

Several livestock diseases (including avian influenza) have recently emerged or resurfaced, disrupting food production and international trade and hurting the global economy to the tune of about $100 billion. Additionally, when contagious infections penetrate rare animal populations, they put entire species at risk of extinction—for example, Ebola virus in gorillas, facial tumors in Tasmanian devils, and chytrid fungus in many amphibian species. Yet until recently, most disease monitoring efforts focused on human and livestock populations, without examining how diseases move through the wildlife community.

Our pathologists have identified 12 pathogens, “The Deadly Dozen,” that could extend their sickly reach into new areas as a result of climate change—avian influenza, babesia, cholera, Ebola, intestinal and external parasites, plague, Lyme disease, algal red tides, Rift Valley fever, sleeping sickness, tuberculosis, yellow fever. Whether pathogens move in human-to-animal, animal-to-human, or animal-to-animal directions, the spread of infectious disease has the potential to put the health of the world, and its economies, in jeopardy.

Goals

  • Forge alliances among conservationists, local communities, governments, and health agencies
  • Establish early warning systems of disease outbreaks
  • Guide local human healthcare programs on how to prevent disease transmission between wildlife and humans
  • Train local personnel to montitor the health of their wildlife
  • Reduce the direct and indirect impacts of emerging diseases--and the policies designed to control them--on wildlife and human populations, as well as humanl livelihoods

What WCS is Doing

Across the globe, WCS field veterinarians work to curtail the direct impacts emerging diseases have on wildlife populations. They collaborate with local governments to develop sound disease management actions that protect wildlife populations. Having created the first global network for monitoring wildlife disease, they monitor for HPAI H5N1 through GAINS (the Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance, www.gains.org), track the effects of Ebola virus on great apes in central Africa, and investigate the relationship between livestock and wildlife health in Bolivia and Argentina.

From the Newsroom

Serendipity in SumatraJune 1, 2010

WCS field veterinarians tracking avian influenza catch a glimpse into the life of a little-known bird, Nordmann's greenshank, as it flies between the Russian seacoast and the beaches of Sumatra.

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