The Wildlife Health Event Reporter – A Surveillance and Communication Tool
Wildlife can be effective sentinels that alert us to potential health hazards and environmental concerns, but information about sick/injured/dead wildlife need to be reported and shared in a timely manner for professionals to evaluate and determine if response is warranted. The Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER), www.wher.org, developed by the Wildlife Data Integration Network (WDIN) and maintained by University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Veterinary Medicine, not only provides a destination for observations of sick/injured/dead wild animals, but also functions as an alerting system, quickly distributing these reports to those who are signed up to receive them. Since 2010, the system has been collecting reports from the public, citizen groups, wildlife rehabilitators and other wildlife professional organizations and is building a long-term dataset of wildlife morbidity and mortality event data.
Get Alerts! Stay Informed about Emerging Events
Did you hear about the multiple seabird mortality events that were reported along the US’ East coastline beginning in January 2013? An unusual number of dead/injured dovekies, razorbills and grebes have been reported along the US’ Northeast coast; while puffins and loons are being reported along the East coast from Florida to Maine. If you were subscribed to alerts through the Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER), you would know about these occurrences as well as future unfolding events.
Alerts can be delivered daily by email (when reports are available) or in near-real time as an RSS feed. In addition, you can choose what geographic locations (by state or equivalent administrative unit) you want alerts from (e.g. Wisconsin, United States; Alberta, Canada; or Hunan Province, China). Or if you’re interested, you can select to receive all the reports made to WHER from around the globe.
Alerts include summary information about the wildlife health event, including the location, species involved, how many of each species were observed to be dead, sick and alive, and what actions were taken. To learn more and to sign up for alerts, visit: http://feeds.wher.org
Wildlife Health Observation Network for Data Exchange
Due to the health consequences of emerging diseases in wildlife and their potential effects on human and domestic animal populations, the collection of wildlife health data is increasing not only through professional monitoring efforts but also through citizen science projects. Despite this increase, the data often is not standardized nor formatted for distribution (e.g. as XML web services or RSS feeds) and therefore cannot be easily integrated or shared effectively across political or academic boundaries for practical surveillance applications or scholarly research.
In addition to functioning as a data collection application and alerting system for wildlife health events, WHER is also an open data exchange hub capable of importing, exporting and integrating basic but essential data fields from more complex datasets for epidemiologic study.
The WHER team works with organizations who are interested in sharing their surveillance data with WHER to help them automate the delivery process that will integrate pertinent data with WHER’s dataset. Currently WHER is integrating data from multiple sources. In addition to the public sharing their wildlife health observations through WHER, the Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET), a citizen science effort that tasks trained volunteers to record seabird deaths and injuries along the Atlantic coastline, pushes their reports to WHER through an automated feed. HealthMap is also providing a feed of its wildlife health reports made through its mobile application, Outbreaks Near Me. In the near future, through a southeastern pilot study, US Fish and Wildlife Service field staff and other conservation partners will be submitting their wildlife health observations to WHER.
As a hub, WHER can exchange and integrate wildlife health data either within the WHER system (e.g. view joined data on maps or tables) or in a user’s local system (e.g. WHER data can be streamed or downloaded for analysis in outside systems) to evaluate for trends or investigate potential disease hot spots.
We Work Better When We Work Together
The ecology of wildlife disease is complex and poses many challenges to effective disease management, which can be best overcome through collaboration that leverages resources, reduces duplication of efforts and broadens access to information about disease events. WHER can facilitate communication and collaboration about emerging wildlife health events. It was developed to collect and distribute wildlife health data, and complement other organizations’ surveillance systems. Whether you are interested in contributing or obtaining WHER data, you are invited to become a member of the WHER community. Increase your awareness about wildlife disease and health events and your ability to work with others to address the challenges of wildlife disease!
Want to Learn More about WHER?
Your are invited to check out this online wildlife health surveillance and communication tool at www.wher.org and explore its capabilities to inform you about where wildlife disease incidences are occurring on the ground through maps, tables, downloadable data and alerts. Email comments and questions to us at email@example.com
● Use case of how WHER is being used for tracking and communicating unusual bird mortalities as described above, http://seanetters.wordpress.com/tag/reporting-dead-birds/
● How to get report alerts from WHER – http://feeds.wher.org
● Handout [benefits and proposed enhancements] – http://www.wdin.org/documents/wher/wher%20handout_biologists.pdf
● Two- minute overview video – http://www.whmn.org/wher/pages/about#video
I’m going to start this post off by quoting myself. In the introductory editorial of the third Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation issue of 2012 I ask rehabilitators to consider the following questions “What is our place in the larger conservation community? How can we effect change for individuals and species? How can we share our experiences with our colleagues?” These are big picture questions, too large to be answered with a single cup of coffee, especially when gulped down during a two minute break! But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the questions. We answer them by being, by doing, and by teaching.
IWRC keeps a list of current research projects that wildlife rehabilitators can get involved in. The current projects are up on our research resources page. The raccoon polyomavirus study came from a rehabilitator asking a veterinary researcher to look at an odd raccoon. Now UC Davis has launched a full scale study and is looking for specific raccoon tumor samples. Meanwhile another researcher is looking at tick hosts across Canada to find out how animal range extension is affecting the movement and occurrence of tick species.
You don’t need to be a researcher at a major university to create a study. Partner, learn, be brave, and jump in. Ann Goody, a wildlife rehabilitator in Hawai’i is no stranger to research projects. She works with interns on a research question almost every year. Ann took some time to speak with me about her current project:
I am seeking information on if any of the people using educational birds display them in mixed species habitats and if so with what other types of species. We found over many years that captive raptors really do very well with tortoises and or pheasants on the floor of their aviaries. We plant them in natural foliage and this seems to really be stimulating & enriching for the birds. Our raptors (endangered Hawaiian hawk) have successfully bred and reared a chick which was parent reared and returned to the wild. My thought is that the stimulation seems to cause less of the behaviors associated with stress and allows for a better educational experience for the visitor. Our facility is visited only on docent guided tours.
The idea for these blended species exhibits this originally came from my work on enrichment projects for our exotic species. One of our BOD (who just passed away) Dr Hal Markowitz, was the grandfather of behavioral enrichment. Papa Hal always complained about the furnishings of the typical raptor exhibits and said that in the wild this bird would be non-stop focused on surroundings and other creatures. That led me to work out a healthcare protocol with our avian vet (another BOD member)which allowed us to pair reptiles who move around the aviaries with the raptors. This led to adding pheasants as well which, in our minds, is like raptor TV. Just thinking like they do and knowing that the natural soaring overhead provides hours of stimulation does make you sympathetic to the edu birds whose entire world consists of a mews. So many of these species are endangered or threatened and are seen at our facilities on static display by visitors. To provide a more natural habitat with plantings is one thing we always should aim for but to also add movement of creatures on the ground, that is a whole new level of stimulation.
So you see, each research project begins with a simple question. Whether the study is to improve the welfare of animals in captivity, to understand disease vectors, or to explore the success (or failure) of a rehabilitation technique, the pursuit of knowledge is always useful. “Without wildlife rehabilitators working with scientists and sharing this important information, our observations and the impact of animals admitted to wildlife centers will not have a broader impact on conservation activities.” (Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation 32:1)
A guide to record keeping options
Record keeping is a fact of life. Every job from police officer to tax accountant requires a certain level of documentation for proper functioning, legal purposes, and record keeping. Wildlife rehabilitation is no exception; our records provide data on what treatments are needed for a specific animal, how that animal has fared over time, and the medical-legal outcome of each case. I remember as a teen being enlisted to enter each year’s worth of intake sheets into an Excel program. Tedious for sure, but quite amazing once all that data was entered and we suddenly saw that 70% of our waterfowl came from Oshkosh or that the number of squirrels with pox had greatly decreased in Menasha.
Fortunately today there are many documentation options, from web based solutions (WILD-ONe, Wildlife Rehabilitation MD), software options (RAVEN, RaptorMed), and state-run databases (Wisconsin), to Excel documents, and the traditional pen and paper. What to choose? Well, it depends entirely on what level of technology you are comfortable with and what your situation is. Here are some of the common options, their benefits, and contact information so you can research further. Note that most of the developed options are made in North America. However, several are either currently useable worldwide or are working to become useable worldwide. Be sure to check with the developer before dismissing an option as “not for my geographic area”!
Cloud (Web) Solutions
Cloud solutions, sometimes called software as a service (SAS), provide an off-site database for collection and analysis of rehabilitation data. This option has several benefits. For example, most cloud databases include back-up security; automatic back ups make the loss of your data less likely. In addition, other benefits include the ability to easily run analytics (e.g. how to determine what was the major cause of intake in raccoons this year), low cost or free to the user, ease of version updating, and the ability to add information about a specific animal after intake to track its care. The major downside is the need to have a reliable internet connection to use the product. These web-based solutions don’t work when your internet is down. A few cloud solution are listed below.
WILD-ONe – Free
Visit http://wildlifecenter.org/wild-one to learn more or sign up
Wildlife Rehabilitation MD - Free
Visit http://wrmd.org/ to learn more or sign up
State databases are a cloud-based service, similar to the web products described above. A major difference is that registration is limited to people in that state or region. The obvious benefit is that it’s created by the regulatory body, so there is no delay in it keeping up to date with regulation changes.
Software solutions, like the web-based options, are out of the box (RAVEN) or developer customized (RaptorMed) programs for the collection and analysis of rehabilitation data. Benefits include not needing an internet connection, ability to easily run analytics, ability to track finances as well as animal care, and a more reliable and easier to reference system than the old pen and paper. Further, you are not recreating everything from scratch like in Excel! On the downside, software generally has a cost involved and updating to a new version may involve more work than cloud systems, although most developers offer highly discounted new versions to customers with an older edition.
RaptorMed – $2500 – $5000 (tailored to organization) More information is available on the website http://www.raptormed.com
Excel and other spreadsheet programs provide rehabilitators with an electronic way to track their data. The complexity and ease of use depends entirely on the ability of the operator; this can be used as anything from your primary method of keeping data on animals in care to an end of year project to look at macro level data and compile governmental report data. Excel is something most computer users already own and basic use is quite simple. However, advanced use can quickly become complex. Analytics need some understanding of chart and graph creation at a minimum, if not formal statistical training.
Pen and Paper
Ah, the old pen and paper; the classic method of tracking data. The upside? It’s amazingly portable (unless you are lucky enough to have an iPad you can carry around) and each file can stay with the animal while it’s in care, making excuses of not updating the charts nil. Further, it is a common technology, so volunteers will be comfortable with its use. Downsides include relatively more easily lost and destroyed documents, disorganization, lack of a central collection system to allow for easy analytics and search for past information. In my opinion the biggest downside of this method is that you cannot quickly and easily learn from the past (e.g. did that new antibiotic your vet prescribed increase your cat-attacked songbird survival rate?).
There are many options out there, and no one option is everything to all people. Evaluate your needs, and then choose a system based on how you plan to use it. That is the best way to ensure you have a good fit.
Have you had experiences with a system? Share with other rehabilitators by posting comments below.
We are pleased to announce the new board members voted in by the membership in December of 2012. Continuing board members Brenda Harms and Melissa Matassa-Stone were also voted to the board. But for the moment, lets concentrate on our three new members.
Kristen Heitman is a full-time bird and mammal. rehabilitator, specializing in waterfowl. Her passionate connection to this field began in 1999 and in 2002 she founded the non-profit, Providence Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc., and continues as their director. With Providence’s 13 education birds, Kristen and her staff provide outreach conservation programs across Indiana.
Kristen took the 1AB Basic Wildlife course in 2005 and became a CWR in March 2007. Kristen has been a board member, Communications Chair, and newsletter editor for IWREN (Indiana Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators Network).
Kristen is guided by a strong commitment to furthering the mission and goals of the IWRC, to promoting the organization and its members to even greater excellence. She relays her passion through extreme dedication and tenacity, and would like to lend her detail-oriented organizational skills toward these ends.
Steve’s professional career spans 40 years of public service, including service in the United States Army and a 30 year career in law enforcement. An avid fisherman and hunter, wildlife has been an important part of his life since early childhood. With his wife’s encouragement, both began rehabilitating birds at Wild Bird Rescue, Inc. in Wichita Falls, Texas. Steve attended Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation in Houston, Texas, and later attained his Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator credential. He served on the Board of Directors for WBR and was instrumental in the success of several fundraising activities, as well as the wildscaping and beautification of the facilities. He is a member of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, a life member of the Sierra Club, an Associate Member of the John Muir Society, and a member of the Audubon Society.
Steve envisions IWRC moving forward by broadening its participation in wildlife conservation and preservation through mutual cooperation with similarly minded organizations. He wants to stimulate interest and increase new membership in IWRC. He foresees the IWRC serving as a clearinghouse for knowledge between experienced wildlife rehabilitators and the scientific community with the goal of assuring wildlife their place in the circle of life.
Amanda Cyr currently resides in Wausau, Wisconsin where she serves as the wildlife rehabilitation/captive wildlife liaison for the State of Wisconsin. She has a bachelor’s of science degree in biology with minors in captive wildlife management and conservation biology from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, and a master’s degree in wildlife also from UW Stevens Point. Amanda discovered wildlife rehabilitation as an undergraduate student, and since then she has found numerous ways to stay involved in this field. She started as an intern one summer, which led to future internships, volunteering, and other employment opportunities in wildlife rehabilitation. In addition to wildlife rehabilitation, Amanda is particularly interested in studying wildlife health and disease. She strives to work within the wildlife rehabilitation community to promote networking and collaboration, encourage continuing education, and support research opportunities. She believes teamwork is an important key to success, and aspires to be a part of that team and encourage others to also promote and protect wildlife conservation.
In the US, it’s fairly common to see whitetailed and blacktailed deer, coyotes, and all sorts of mesopredators in and around the city. A recent National Geographic article mentioned the increased urban appearance of apex predators like cougars. The article made me think “what does this mean for rehab”? My only experience with an apex in the city had a tragic end. It was a timber wolf that was shot for being too close to a mall. How can rehabilitators assist in preventing human wildlife conflict with this new influx of predators?
Here are some thoughts from IWRC members:
Ned Bruha: The article in Nat Geo, just like their TV programming, is following suit with so many others who have the power to help instead of hinder animals. They have found that If they talk about, film, and add drama to wildlife dilemmas, they make more money. Wildlife and larger predators will always adapt and overcome. If you feed them, they will come.
Rehabilitators will continue to do gratis rehabilitation to “nuisance” and federally protected animals with personal and donated money, while the state and fed wildlife dollars will continue to go towards anything but helping wildlife that is in true need of rehabilitation. Because of this, it is even more important to screen calls to see if animals truly do need a rehabber’s assistance… those first 3 young raccoons sure look cute and inviting in the spring, but how much time and money can you save by explaining to the caller how to keep them with their real mother? The same goes with calls from people afraid about larger predators. Many times, they are raiding garbage cans, hunting at bird feeders and eating pet food left outdoors along with the cat or dog at the outdoor food bowl – often times, these are avoidable situations.
Kevin Bertoli: There is no way we can stop the influx of wild animals into our neighborhoods, short of our own retreat from THEIR habitat. I don’t see that happening, so it is inevitable that they will continue to be destroyed. Rehabbers can assist in slowing this process if they work in conjunction with their local Wildlife Officers and assist in either notifying them, or working with local law enforcement to quickly incorporate sedation and humane removal when a threat arises. This would mean organizing local vets, animal control, wildlife officials and those able to keep the necessary drugs and equipment on hand ready for immediate response.
By guest blogger Randie Segal
Randie, Lynn, and Diane are in Europe visiting rehabilitation centers, attending conferences, and in between Lynn has managed to squeeze in time to teach not one, but three IWRC courses. Join us for the next few weeks as Randie tours us around Ireland, Great Britain, Poland, and Belgium.
We all arrived in London , went through customs, and didn’t get into any trouble
We took a taxi and came to our hotel
Went out to a little family Italian restaurant and had a great time
Lynn told them we were going out looking for guys and asked them for tips. They said they would take us out dancing all night.
We went to a bar named Millers in Lynn’s honor
Diane had her first Guinness in England, Lynn had Scotch and I had a Jameson’s
Back in our room we are all unwinding from our day of travel.
Tomorrow we go on a bus tour. It is supposed to rain all day. We are in LONDON
Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and looked forward to staying in touch
By Sam Williams – reposted with author permission from Word Parrot Trust
A few Mondays ago we got a call that another parrot had bounced off a car. Normally we’d expect a parakeet, a broken wing or both but this call came from Jim and Jane who sponsor Echo so it was definitely going to be a parrot. Sam headed over but was still in for a surprise. It was an unweaned parrot chick who had had a lucky escape, he was knocked about but otherwise ok. Except he had lost his parents. The story has a happy ending so do read on. Jane has given us permission to share her nice email and she tells the story well:
“On Monday evening after you left, when the parrots came through on the way back to the roost two of them stopped in the tree out front. Junior was on the wall in the carrier and we opened the door to it hoping their chatter would cause him to talk back and maybe fly to them. He was still very frightened and I think Mom and Dad were a bit intimidated by the carrier. They moved on back to the roost. We put Junior to bed once the sun went down, he could barely keep his eyes open he was so exhausted from all the “trauma” I think.
So then as you suggested we got up about 15 minutes before sunrise on Tuesday and sat on the porch with Junior in the carrier waiting to hear the group of parrots that usually come through. We first heard them about 6:30 and Jim put Junior back on the wall. BUT…this time we had the idea to take the entire top off the carrier, it was then just essentially an open box, as we thought this would be a little less fearsome for Mom and Dad and for Junior too (particularly if they could sense that Junior was in a CAT CARRIER!!!) Even with the top off, Junior was still all huddled in a corner of it. AND THEN, within about 5 minutes Mom and Dad showed up in the same tree out front and started talking. Junior’s head popped up over the side of the box, he gave a little shout. Mom and Dad started talking louder and Junior hopped up onto the edge of the box and answered. Next thing you know he flew to them and the three of them flew off together after a quick burst of what I like to think of as “thank you”. It was just delightful to see them reunited.
They teach children in the U.S. that if you lose your Mom and Dad you should always go back to the place that you last saw them because that is where they will look for you. I guess the same lesson is taught to Bonaire parrot children too!
Thanks again for all your assistance and advice in facilitating this happy reunion.”
Sam works with ECHO. Please check out the wonderful work they do on Bonaire!
We all have that one instance or person who got us involved in wildlife rehabilitation. Let’s take a moment today to celebrate them; whether it was a person, a situation, or a single warbler. For Karen, that person was Di Conger. The rehab community is saddened by Di’s recent death. Let us remember all of the animals who went back into the wild due to Di’s care, and all of the people she influenced in her life. Di did not want an obituary, so instead Karen has offered to share her story of jumping into rehab.
Update 8/21/12: A memorial will be held for Di in Maryland. Dates are currently being decided upon (Sept 29, Oct 13, or Oct 20) If you have an opinion on the date email Roxy at firstname.lastname@example.org
I first met Di in 1994. I was working as an officer manager at an Invisible Fence dealership and Di was one of our clients. Our work crews always referred to her as the “squirrel lady” because she always seemed to have a kazillion of them either in her house or in her pre-release cages. I had talked to her many times on the phone but didn’t meet her in person until the spring of 1994 when we had a huge old tree cut down outside the corner of our old farmhouse. The tree was so big and old I couldn’t put my arms a fourth of the way around the trunk! Sure enough, when a main branch was cut – the workers cut right through a squirrel’s nest full of tiny pinkies. They had no way of knowing it was there! One baby was killed and two more fell a LONG way to the ground. We put some of the nest material around the base of the tree, put the two little ones down and went in the house to watch. Momma squirrel picked up one of the babies immediately and took it somewhere else. She picked up the second one several times, turned her every which way and cleaned her thoroughly, and then left – and never came back. PANIC TIME!!!! I remembered talking to “squirrel lady” at work and immediately called Di! She was so packed she couldn’t take another squirrel — but immediately told me exactly what to do and arrived about an hour later with an incubator, formula, and everything I needed to raise my little girl! Next thing I knew, I was on Di’s Board of Directors!
By Karen Tannenbaum
Karen is a California rehabilitator who usually volunteers at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in the US but is spending the summer as a volunteer at an Israeli wildlife rehabilitation and education center, Hai Bar Yotvata. Since IWRC currently has no Israeli members (hopefully we will soon) I thought the membership would be interested in the current state of rehabilitation in the country. Regardless of where we are, we always regard our animals and practices as normal, be that kangaroos and possums, raccoons and redtails, or pandas and cincerous vultures. By sharing each others “normal” we learn things that benefit us all.
Today I spent some time with the resident reptiles of the Hai Bar. My supervisor drove by me as I was cleaning the outside of the poisonous snake terrariums, and instructed me to jump in the front seat of his truck. He had an Arabian Horned Viper in a tank in the back seat and was on his way to release the snake. We drove out to a reserve in Elifaz, about fifteen minutes from Hai Bar, and I got to witness the release of the beautiful, side-winding serpent. I kept a safe distance, as the snake seemed to have completely disappeared from sight in a matter of seconds following his release. I returned to the snake enclosures after the release and upon approaching the cages I noticed a wild, loose snake sitting right on top of a viper’s terrarium. My presence startled the snake as it slithered away through the rocks near the enclosure. By examining the pictures, I assume this was an Egyptian Sand-Racer. I was also lucky enough to catch a picture of a sunbathing gecko. In summation, my day was essentially dedicated to the reptiles of the Arava.
About three and a half days ago, there was an on-site birth of three Wild Cat kittens at the Hai Bar. One, unfortunately, had been neglected by her mother for over an hour and was confiscated by the Hai Bar staff for hand feeding. I was given the opportunity to watch one of her feedings. She was too adorable…I was left speechless. Hopefully she will make a promising animal ambassador for the Hai Bar’s educational sector.
Tonight we had a staff barbeque. After the festivities I was invited to attend a night feeding for the predators of the Hai Bar. Photographing was difficult, but what was even more difficult was making sure all of the predators were in sight before continuing with the feeding (of course, we never entered the enclosures for the larger predators). Namely, the elusive cheetah had us searching for at least 10 minutes before we found her sitting only 5 feet away from us! The best part of the night was hearing the Barn Owls’ screech. They sound marvelously pre-historic; they definitely count as one of my favorite inhabitants of the Hai Bar.
Today was my last (and also most incredible) day of work so far at the Hai Bar. I was invited to attend an annual Dorcas Gazelle count administered by workers of the wildlife reserves in Southern Israel. We had to be out of the apartment by 4:30 AM and were picked up by our supervisor, Zohar. He took us to the meeting point, where about 15 wildlife reserve trucks manned by park rangers congregated to begin the gazelle count. Here’s how it works: the 15 cars line up horizontally at the start of a territory in the Arava. Each truck is equidistant apart, about 100 feet. A note taker is seated in the passenger seat, and is in charge of keeping tally of the sex and number of gazelles. The drivers all move at the same pace through the territory and the drivers keep in contact by use of walkie-talkies. As soon as gazelles are spotted, the truck’s neighboring drivers are notified. The gazelles are then counted as they run between the cars, and the driver (in our case) reports how many males/females there are in the group. Everyone in the truck participates in trying to count each gazelle that passes the car. The experience was completely unmatched. Everyone worked as a team. The resident wildlife ecologist (one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever met) gave us the final tally of 226 gazelles! While this was a slight decrease from last year, it was a satisfactory number overall. Our truck counted around 29 gazelles. After the gazelle count, our driver (Gil, a park ranger for a neighboring territory) took us to visit the salt channels–home to numerous birds, including flamingos! The other volunteers and I had a blast taking pictures of the resident sea birds of Israel. I could not have possibly had a better final day of work here at the Hai Bar.