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Worldwide wildlife health situation

  1. 1. The Working Group on Wildlife Diseases of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) met from 17 to 19 September 1996 at the OIE headquarters in Paris. Each year, the Group informs all governments on the evolution of the wildlife health situation worldwide, and on the potential dangers that wildlife diseases might represent to domestic animals or humans, as well as specific measures to avoid these dangers.

  2. 2. The health situation reported at the time of the meeting was fairly satisfactory, in comparison with the report drawn up last year.

    Nevertheless, several specific wildlife diseases persist (or were reported for the first time) in different regions of the world, and should be carefully observed. The main diseases affect the following species:

    Africa

    • The rinderpest epizootic reported in 1995 in buffaloes in the Tsavo West National Park (Kenya) seems to be extinguished. On the other hand, the buffaloes in the Kruger National Park (South Africa) continue to suffer from tuberculosis, which is spreading dangerously and could affect up to 80% of the animals in the southern part of the Park. The disease was also observed in lions, antelopes, kudus and in a cheetah. Furthermore, baboons also contracted tuberculosis, and this infection is seriously spreading amongst these animals, which are affected by the generalised form.

    • The origin of the small ulcers observed in hippopotami in Southern Africa has been elucidated: the cause is the Stephanofilaria thelazoïdes parasite, a new worm species.

    • Elephants: In the Kruger National Park, the viral encephalitis-myocarditis epidemic reported in 1995 seems to be disappearing. However, another disease of still unknown origin has affected male elephants in the Park: the "flaccid trunk syndrome", which leads to the death of the sick animals that cannot feed themselves.

    • Following the death of over a thousand lions from canine distemper in the National Parks in Kenya and Tanzania, it has been confirmed that the carriers of the virus responsible for this disease are, in fact, stray dogs that enter the Parks. A free vaccination campaign of these animals has been launched in the areas surrounding the Parks.

    • Anthrax continues to occur in most countries of Africa, killing numerous elephants and large antelopes, but also lions, leopards and cheetahs.

    • The Ebola virus, which killed a large number of chimpanzees in Côte d'Ivoire and infected a Swiss biologist, also affected chimpanzees and three gorillas in Gabon. Thirteen people in Gabon, who had eaten a sick chimpanzee, died from the disease.

    • The Lassa fever virus killed 73 people in Sierra Leone: the virus reservoir could be the "multi-mammate mouse".

    North America

    • In Florida, 155 "manatee" carcasses (an aquatic mammal of the sirenia family) were discovered in coastal waters. The animals die from a violent pulmonary infection, the cause of which has not yet been determined.

    • Spongiform encephalopathy of cervidae (similar to the "mad cow disease") has been in existence in the United States of America since 1980, in north Colorado and south Wyoming, in "Wapitis" deer raised in captivity. It also occurs in some wild cervidae, living within a 100 km radius of these breeding farms.

    • In February 1996, 200 Bighorn sheep died of pnaumonia in the Rocky Mountains of the United States of America.

    Australia

      • Several fruit-eating bats were found to be carriers of a pathogenic virus, similar to the rabies virus, which is being identified in a specialised laboratory.

    Europe

      • Vulpine rabies still continues to decrease in the whole of Western Europe in a spectacular way, thanks to the oral vaccination of foxes. On the other hand, classical swine fever still affects boars in several Central and East European countries.

  3. 3. The Working Group made several important recommendations to the OIE:

    • Tuberculosis has proved to be extremely dangerous once established in wildlife populations. It endangers their survival, but also the health of domestic animals and humans that approach them. This disease can ruin the efforts of conservation of rare species. The health authorities are thus earnestly requested to keep a close watch over wildlife (by carrying out autopsies on carcasses found in the wilds) and, if necessary, to immediately destroy the first groups affected.

    • The Group favours the use of contraception techniques in domestic animals that have returned to the wild or in exotic species, but are reticent about their use in native animal species. The Group is also very reticent about the use of "recumbinant contraceptives" in wildlife, using a live vector capable of diffusing automatically and without control.

    • Regarding wildlife disease surveillance, the six big international associations (American, European, world) will be invited to send their information to the OIE, which will distribute it to its Member Countries.

Contact : Maria Zampaglione

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