Wildlife Health

WCS has dedicated itself to wildlife health since 1902. The current Global Wildlife Health and Policy Program was born out of the Field Vet Program founded in 1989. It was the first of its kind and continues to be the biggest wildlife health program in global conservation organizations. Our team is made up of more than 50 veterinarians that work in more than 25 countries around the world. We work to understand the interfaces where wildlife, domestic animals, and human populations converge - the same places where the probability of contracting infectious diseases, experiencing environmental pollution, and observing critical ecosystem disruptions are highest. A proactive focus on environmental health that encompasses these three aspects of the ecosystem can generate benefits for everyone. For WCS, biodiversity conservation is sustained as long as it can also assure a harmonious relationship between the health of human populations, domestic animals, and viable wildlife populations.

In Peru, the accelerated economic and population growth is leading to an increase in deforestation for agriculture and extractive industry, as well as to an increase in illegal activities such as illegal trafficking of animals. All of these activities result in an augmented interaction between wildlife, disease vectors, and people, leading to a higher risk of zoonotic diseases (those that are transmitted between humans and animals). The Wildlife Health and Policy Program led the PREDICT work in Peru, an international initiative dedicated to strengthening country capacities for early detection and prevention of diseases originating in wildlife. Through this project we have monitored the movement of infectious agents in animals that were victims of trafficking, seized by local authorities and those that were kept as pets by local people in 12 cities in Peru. Our results demonstrate that the illegal trafficking favors the spread of diseases that may adversely affect the health of wildlife populations and which could also affect the human population such as Salmonella, Malaria, Chagas disease, among others.

From the information generated about the state of wildlife trafficking, we work on strengthening government capacities for the control and prevention of this illegal activity, and for the epidemiological surveillance and control in wildlife, disseminating information and generating support quick reference materials for better management of wildlife in the country. We work closely with strategic partners, allies of the government and civil society to design conservation strategies and management policy development, incorporating solid information on health and risks involved in the management of wildlife and other human activities related to the use of natural resources.

WCS is committed to the development of technical capabilities in local conservation actors providing tools for handling pets and improving subsistence production systems, as we believe that by consolidating food safety and prevent the transmission of diseases from pets, we prevent the unsustainable use of wildlife for consumption or trade, and we mitigate conflicts with wildlife and establish early warning systems to detect health threats that may appear on the border between the forest and local communities. Thus contributing the maintenance of human and animal populations healthier towards solid conservation objectives.

Top photo: Pablo Puertas