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World Wildlife Day – Safeguarding animal health, human health and biodiversity

This year’s World Wildlife Day provides an opportunity to recall the importance of wildlife disease monitoring, prevention and control to safeguard biodiversity and public and animal health around the world.


Paris, 3rd March 2017 - In the context of its overall mandate to improve animal health and welfare worldwide, the OIE has been actively involved in the surveillance and protection of wildlife and biodiversity since the 1980s.

Animals in the wild are the sentinels of the world’s health. They are  both  targets  of  and  a  reservoir  for  diseases  capable  of  infecting domestic animals and humans: they can transmit them but may themselves fall victim. It is consequently vital to improve the knowledge of the diseases present in wildlife and the ways in which they can be transmitted to and from domestic animals and humans, in order to devise appropriate control measures.

However, detecting and controlling disease in wildlife can present many challenges. Symptoms and signs are frequently not as evident as they could be with domestic animals, and specimens are more difficult to collect and analyse in laboratories in wildlife. In addition, as many of the wild animals are migratory and are not concerned about jurisdictional boundaries, tracking and surveillance can be highly complicated.

The link between domestic animals and wild animals can become really close. Diseases can be easily transmitted between them and the impact of disease on wildlife can also affect the environment.

Such is the case of the last outbreaks of Peste des Petites Ruminants (PPR), in Mongolia, when some 900 Saiga Antelopes were found dead in Khovd, a Mongolian western province. Samples taken from carcasses indicated the animals were positive for PPR, killing up to 90 percent of the infected animals. Wildlife has been considered potentially vulnerable to PPR but has never experienced such a big outbreak for this disease. Few PPR infections had been documented in goat-like wild animals but not on this Antelope species. Ongoing investigations on the situation to clarify the possible cause have suggested that these cases are a spill over event from domestic animals with which they share common grazing areas. On the other hand, this situation also highlights that PPR can be found in wildlife and the potential risk they present as a source of infection for livestock. Scientists have also hypothesised that the depletion of grazing resources for wildlife through pressure from livestock in fragile environments could have contributed to the Saiga antelopes’ vulnerability to PPR. More information here: Alarm as lethal plague kills endangered Mongolian antelope.

Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) is another good example of the strong link between health of wildlife, of domestic animals and of humans. Infection with TB in wildlife became a great concern in countries like the UK, New Zealand and France. Evidence that wild animals like wild boar, red deer, brush-tailed possums or the badger were infected from cattle activated a series of studies to determine if such animals were simply spill over victims or could play a local role for maintenance of the infection and possibly re-infect cattle. In Africa by November 2016, TB was documented in more than 16 different wildlife species, developing an important potential impact on biodiversity. In South and Southeast Asia, Bovine Tuberculosis infection was transmitted from humans to working Asian elephants. Thus, in multi-species wildlife systems, or in close wildlife-human situations, infection with Tuberculosis has the potential to have an impact on biodiversity.

In  response  to  the  need  for  improved  knowledge  of  diseases  in  wildlife  as  well  as  in  domestic animals, the OIE is introducing information to identify wildlife species of epidemiological significance in each of the diseases listed in its international Standards. In addition, a list of diseases of importance to wildlife has been identified, and Delegates of OIE Member Countries are asked to voluntarily report at the end of each year on their occurrence.

To  enable  this  effort,  the  OIE’s  information  network, composed of wildlife focal points in the 180 Member Countries as well as OIE Reference Centres,  is  supported by an international  OIE Working  Group  on  Wildlife composed  of  scientists  with  an  expertise in this field. The  Group  reviews  wildlife  disease  occurrences  in  free  living,  farmed,  ranched  and  captive wildlife, which can have a significant impact on these populations as well as on domestic animals, including poultry and also on public health.  Highlights from the Working Group on Wildlife in 2016.

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