As COVID-19 (Coronavirus) continues to spread, it can be a stressful and daunting time. Especially as the baby season is here for some and closely around the corner for others. Many of us have had to temporarily remove volunteers from our workforce, while balancing more-so limited funds and an increased workload. However, we must always make time for ourselves. Without caring for ourselves, we simply cannot care for others. Wildlife needs you to practice self-care!
1. Get some air.
As of now, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is still saying it is OK for healthy individuals to go outside – as long as they practice social distancing (staying at least an eagle’s wingspan away from others; at least 6 feet). Confirm with your local authorities that such activity is still acceptable. Safely get outside and get some fresh air!
2. Leave work, at work (we know… it’s hard!).
Even if you rehabilitate out of your home, it is always possible to put work aside when you are done. Creating this mental separation between work and home has significantly helped significantly with productivity and mental health (Source). Consider looking at a recently-published resource: Going Home Checklist.
3. Schedule your self-care time.
This may sound silly, but having regularly scheduled blocks of time can help ensure you are saving time for yourself. Though we aren’t accustomed to anything ‘regular’ or ‘scheduled’ in our field, the importance of having ‘you time’ cannot be understated. Whether you block off a day of the week, an hour a day, or whether you take that time to take a bath, go for a run, spend time with a loved one, or read, it is imperative you have time to focus on you!
4. Social Distancing, or Physical Distancing?
Stay connected with loved ones, family, friends, and colleagues! Just because you have to stay physically away from each other doesn’t mean you can’t be social, take advantage of free video chat software such as Google Hangouts or FaceTime to communicate with each other, continue to hold meetings, and continue safely seeing your friends and family!
5. Consider talking with someone
Ask for help or seek professional advice. Thanks to advancements in technology, telemedicine is an emerging field – one which is especially valuable during this time with stay-at-home orders. There are many services that are covered by health insurance, as well as low-cost services for mental health available to you at your convenience and budget.
Some examples of these services include…
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to talk to a counselor
The IWRC and our partners have gathered some advice for wildlife rehabilitation operations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is fluid, and our responses must be agile to align. We will work to update this post as additional guidance and tools become available.
Abbreviations used throughout: Member of the Public – MOP, Personal Protective Equipment – PPE
Biosecurity Best Practices
Biosecurity and cleanliness are vital to the prevention of disease transmission. Make sure that you are up to date on recommendations and have protocols in place to safeguard yourself and others.
Put public health first and follow government guidelines
Wear personal protective equipment and change it often
Don’t allow public out of the car, just transfer the animal and get information by phone or other electronic means
Have arrivals come to the center by appointment only, or at least phone ahead
Limit volunteers/staff on each shift
Check expiration dates and ensure proper dilution of disinfectants
Disinfect surfaces at end of each shift
Limit use of paper and other fomites (fomites are objects or materials which are likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture)
Community can be one of our most powerful resources in trying times. If you are part of a team, reassure staff and volunteers that their safety is top priority. If you are a home rehabber, or part of a network, communicate via phone or video calls and check in on one another. Let your donors and community know what they can do to help you. If you cannot receive patients take this time to work on development, education projects, or your own well being.
Have clear guidelines in place for volunteers and employees. If many of your volunteers are in a high risk category your guidelines may include letting volunteers self-select not to come in because: 1) they are at higher risk 2) they are caring for someone that is sick or of higher risk. Examples of other “adaptive” policies:
When volunteers are in the facility only one person can be in a particular area for that day/shift etc and then the area is wiped down.
Volunteers are in teams that do not shift. If Anna and Sally are on a team today—they should be together tomorrow too. Anna should not be with Charles the next day. If someone from the team falls ill, then you replace the entire team.
Reach out to other rehabilitators!
Share resources if you possible
If veterinary clinics or other organizations direct people to you for drop off, make sure they are aware of new protocols and can communicate those to MOPs
Update your community and donors
Rehabilitators are all too keenly aware that resources are limited. During times of crisis taking space to evaluate and formulate a plan is crucial to continued successful operation. While it may be stressful to consider worst case scenarios, a plan helps mitigate the stress associated with disasters.
Do your best to ensure sufficient resources are on hand (people, food, bedding, cleaning, medical supplies). Don’t hoard beyond what you will use.
Create alternative plans if critical resources are scarce or missing (eg access to ¼ people, low on food for squirrels, out of euthanasia solution/access to vet)
Consider how many animals can you care for with your current staff/volunteers and resources? What is your plan if intakes increase?
Consider what should happen if you become ill? Who is the emergency contact? If you are a single rehabilitator – who will care for the animals?
Does the animal actually need to come in? Our pre-intake assessments are more important than ever to avoid patient overload and unnecessary contact.
Normal procedure: Assess the health of the animal during triage exam. Have the member of public wait in a different room; if the animal doesn’t need intake, have them return the animal back to its original location.
Adapted procedure: Use cell phone video to assess the animal’s need for intake before the member of public transports the animal.
Normal procedure: The member of the public writes information on paper form.
Adapted procedure: When the member of public reaches your location have them call or text. They should not leave their car. Text or email them a link to a Google Form version of your intake or obtain that information via phone and transcribe it.
Transfer of animal
Normal procedure: Varies
Adapted procedure: (Animal Help Now has additional suggestions!) Members of the public should not leave their car, or if walking, the sidewalk. When they reach your location have them call or text. While wearing appropriate PPE, you pick up the animal transport container (cardboard box best) and bring it into your facility. Thank the person by phone or text.
Restrictions on movement
Know your terminology. Shelter in place, self-quarantine, lock-down, essential services – these terms have different interpretations in different jurisdictions. Know what they mean for your jurisdiction. Can you travel between home and work? If not, are you prepared to transfer all animals or have people stay on site?
IWRC extends our thanks to the centers that have shared their practices:
Native Songbird Care
St. Melangell’s Small Mammal Sanctuary
Keep an eye out for more information – here on our blog and on our social media accounts regarding this unprecedented, developing situation. We will continue to communicate with our partners to bring you the most accurate and useful information regarding COVID-19 and its impacts on the wildlife rehabilitation community.
Deciding how to help during the Australian Brush Fires (and other similar emergencies)
Since news of the devastating Australia bush fires broke in late December there has been an outpouring of support as well as a wave of global horror and sorrow. For many, including those involved in wildlife rehabilitation or care, this crisis evokes a strong need to contribute or help the animals affected by the fires. This altruistic urge is not surprising as many people feel a strong connection to the wildlife of Australia because it is so unique, with many species that are imperiled or endangered. Others have useful skills that are relevant to the situation and this disaster may also be viewed as a rare opportunity to physically do something in the face of more impalpable or seemingly insurmountable problems such as climate breakdown and the extinction crisis. Some have chosen or are considering making the journey to Australia, to offer their support in the form of on-the-ground assistance. While this might be the logical choice for a few, in many cases, and despite the best intentions, this decision may hurt more than it helps. The IWRC urges all of those considering self-deployment to assist with wildlife care in Australia to weigh the cost and benefits of such an action and think about alternative ways to help.
The first costs to consider are monetary ones. According to an article in the Harvard Political Review, “Can Help Hurt?”, the price of volunteering abroad may outweigh the amount of help you are able to provide. The article offers an example of a child care volunteering opportunity in Rio. In this case they calculate that the money spent on three days of volunteering was the equivalent of the cost of 4 months of schooling for one child 1. In many cases, the money a person might pay out for housing, food, insurance, and transportation would go further as a donation. Much of the actual money being spent is paying for the experience of the person volunteering rather than the needs of those they aim to help.
Other costs to consider are the environmental ones. This is of particular relevance as the scientific evidence points to climate change as a definitive factor in the severity and scope of these Australian fires. As stated in an article by Yu, Pei, et al., “The ongoing bushfires (wildfires) have confirmed researchers’ warnings several years ago about increasing bushfires due to climate change in Australia”2. Lecturer in veterinary pathology Dr. Andrew Peters averred, “the most important thing the international community can do, is recognise this for what it is – it is our climate change future, and to take individual and community action now to prevent a much worse future for all of us, including the wildlife that we share this planet with”3. With this in mind, it is important to acknowledge the carbon cost of a flight to Australia as well as the use of currently scarce resources upon arrival. The carbon calculator on myclimate.org estimates that a roundtrip flight from the IWRC office in Oregon to Sydney produces 4.4 tons of C02 per passenger4– that is only slightly less than the average emissions of a passenger vehicle for the entire year of 2019 at 4.63 tons5. Although there may be compelling reasons to get on that plane, we must also decide if doing so coheres with the need to mediate a “climate change future” like Dr. Peters describes.
The final cost to consider is the potential toll international relief work can have on local populations. In Ilan Kelman and Rachel Dodds’ paper “Developing a Code of Ethics for Disaster Tourism”, they highlight the importance of only offering assistance and donations with the local context in mind. They stress that, “in a disaster-affected location, any additional people further tax a community”6. Kelman and Dodds convey that emergency workers discourage self-deployment because of safety hazards, reduced accountability and because it diverts scarce resources, even when volunteers are qualified to help (282). It is for these and other reasons that organizations such as the Red Cross have created codes of conduct for international or Non-Governmental Organizations in disaster relief situations. The sixth code of conduct item in their document states “All people and communities – even in disaster – possess capacities as well as vulnerabilities. Where possible, we will strengthen these capacities by employing local staff, purchasing local materials and trading with local companies”7.
The urge to help those in need, human or animal, is great, particularly for those in fields that require compassion and empathy as wildlife care does. However, we must always ask ourselves, do they need our help? In discussions with IWRC staff, rehabilitators in Australia have repeated that they do not need more volunteers. Instead they need financial aid and encouragement from the global community.The wildlife carers in Australia are facing one of the most devastating wildlife disasters in recent history but they are also knowledgeable about the local wildlife, invested, and already on the ground. With this in mind IWRC recommends that individuals only deploy when invited to ensure that your help is really helping.
Watching disaster unfold from the “sidelines” can elicit feelings of helplessness, idleness, and even frustration or anger. It is critical, however, to ensure that our efforts to help have the results we intend. Flying to Australia may bring the satisfaction of acting in the face of catastrophe but before booking a plane ticket we must first weigh the monetary, environmental and local costs. In many cases other means of solidarity or aid may be more appropriate. You may consider donating to an organization who is doing work you support. You might also think about how you can support those fighting to protect and save wildlife in Australia on an emotional level— for example you could participate in our letter writing campaign or make a video of support. Finally, you could take action in your own patch of the world to protect wildlife, your local ecosystem or the global biosphere.
The IWRC Staff
Brown B. Can Help Hurt? Harvard Political Review. [Internet] MA. 2018 Jun 11. [2020 Jan 10]. available from harvardpolitics.com/online/can-help-hurt/.
Yu P, Xu R, Abramson MJ, Li Shanshan, Guo Y. Bushfires in Australia: a Serious Health Emergency under Climate Change. The Lancet Planetary Health. 2020; 4(1). 2020 Jan 1. [Cited 2020 Jan 10]. Available from doi:10.1016/s2542-5196(19)30267-0
Williams K. IWRC Works to Support to Wildlife Carers Affected by Australian Bushfires. Eugene (OR): IWRC; 2020 Jan 15 [accessed 2020 Feb 12]. available from theiwrc.org/archives/75979.
Calculate and Compensate for Your Emissions! Myclimate. [accessed 2020 Jan 10]. www.myclimate.org/carbon-offset
Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator – Revision History. Washington (DC): Environmental Protection Agency. [accessed 2020 Jan 10]. www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator-revision-history
Kelman I, Dodds R. Developing a Code of Ethics for Disaster Tourism. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. [Internet] 2009; 27(3)272-296. available from http://ijmed.org/articles/499/
IFRC. The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief. Geneva: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. available from https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/who-we-are/the-movement/code-of-conduct/
Please share an early/childhood experience that was pivotal to your personal relationship to wildlife.
I was very fortunate to have outdoorsy parents. However, until my first internship with a wildlife hospital, I was completely naive to the field of wildlife rehabilitation. When I found out about it, I was instantly intrigued. I always knew I wanted to be a non-domestic veterinary professional, but wasn’t sure how exactly… My internship helped solidify my interest after seeing the diversity, passion, and dedication of the amazing individuals within this field.
Describe a specific area of interest or a particular passion within the scope of IWRC’s mission.
During the course of my career, the one thing I’ve enjoyed the most (aside from helping my wildlife patients, of course!) is working with the dedicated people who embody what it means to be an advocate for wildlife – not just on a population scale, but on the individual scale as well. Throughout my career, however, I learned about compassion fatigue and burnout the hard way. Because of this, I have become not only an advocate for excellent, progressive wildlife care, but also an advocate for exemplary ‘people care’ as well. To me, this isn’t just about maintaining positive mental health, but also encouraging camaraderie and collaboration.
Describe a skill that you have that has been surprisingly useful to your work as a wildlife rehabilitator? (or as an IWRC board member?)
I believe my ability to work and sympathize with others has helped me become a better wildlife professional, given that our work would simply not be possible without the support, collaboration, and dedication of others!
Describe a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
Early in 2019 I received an amazing opportunity to move from California to Oregon and open a new, state-of-the-art wildlife hospital. Despite having to leave a job I loved, it was quite the unique experience to use what I’ve learned worked (and perhaps most importantly – what didn’t work!) to design a modern wildlife hospital and comprehensive rehabilitation program from the ground up!
If you could be a wild animal, which would you be?
This is a tough question… Part of me wishes I could be a sea otter because watching them dart through the water like flexible torpedos is so fascinating (the great ‘free’ healthcare they’re receiving thanks to the amazing wildlife rehabilitation facilities on the coast is an added bonus) but after seeing how demanding their lives can be in a rapidly changing environment (as well as how they bounce in the waves in combination with my lack of enthusiasm for roller coasters) that’s probably not a great idea…
What excites you so much that it keeps you awake the night before?
I remember when I first started as a young intern in the field of wildlife rehabilitation… I would be so nervous and excited at what the unique challenges and learning opportunities the next day would bring, I would have difficulty falling asleep. I’m happy to say (after some hard work) I still get that feeling today!
There are no words in any human vocabulary to describe the unimaginable horror as Australia burns. There are emotions, deep-stabbing pains of grief, voids and the vacancy of loss, infinite vacuum of pain, but no words. Not one living thing consumed by this hell brought on by human greed and antipathy deserves this fate. I write this now, as my Australian colleagues have much more important things to do. I hope to voice some of their feelings, but I do not speak for them; I understand there is no possibility that I can ever know the pain they suffer.
Looking on the holocaust from afar is devastating. In the field, you put your head down, go to work, do your best and continue on. The personal pain and suffering comes later. From far away, helpless horror and despair takes over. I cannot weep, I cannot rage, I am numb. The tearing rip through my soul does not yet sear.
I have been an Australiophile since I can remember. On my first trip, the first view from the airport on hitting the soil of this fabulous continent took my breath away. I knew I was there. The airport, the people, the industrial aspect –all familiar–but there were galahs, right there. And magpie larks and noisy miners and funny-looking pigeons with crests. I was entranced and filled with wonder! Of all the places in the world to burn to nothingness, the loss of Australia is unfathomable. It is a continent already at the brink, and so susceptible and fragile to anthropogenic damage. The impact on the unique and ancient flora and fauna is beyond the scope of human understanding. There is nowhere else in the world these ecosystems and organisms exist. The fires are needless, preventable squandering of irreplaceable, priceless treasures. The Earth has been violated and robbed. So fortunate have I been, to have visited for several extended tours in regions that now are visions of hell. I vividly remember that stunning individual bowerbird who is now surely ash and his lovely bower rendered to molecules. I remember the first wild koalas I saw, on Kangaroo Island, smelling of chewed eucalyptus, whose remains now intermingle with the charcoal of their favorite gum trees.
Reading the news that Kangaroo Island was aflame dropped the bottom out of my heart. I remember Australia: the first goanna, the first mallee trees; the first brown snake; the first bulldog ant; the first voracious leech; I remember them all and I know they are gone, dead in the most horrible fashion. Gone are half a billion wild animals. Half of all animals in Australia. Countless livestock and pets. Indigenous communities, lands and people. Death of entire ecosystems. Death of a continent. Death of biological record so important to evolution and systematics. Death of history.
Australia is the lesson to the world of what is to come. It is not a surprise. In the late 1970’s I was a fresh young college student working in ecological studies, some of which were predicting the course of human impact on global ecosystems. For 50 years humans have known what would happen, yet little was done to change the course of destruction. Governments have refused to acknowledge or implement policy to prevent disaster. Australia is the result. The rest of us are next.
As a wildlife veterinarian I know there is little to be done. Skills in euthanasia will be the most valuable at this point. Yet valiant and dedicated people give their all and rescue the animal fire victims, of which each individual will now be more important than ever to any remaining population. Wildlife rehabilitators are always heros; but this is a new level of courage.
How can we help? I know that everyone of you would jump on a plane tomorrow with a bag of supplies, but that is not what our friends and the burn victims need most.
The easiest answer is money – providing money so rehabilitators can buy what they need.
Morale support – we are there if needed. Spreading the word, for help and for prevention.
Educating ourselves and others about our local ecological regions and how humans fit into our world, and how deeply we damage it.
Advocating for change and awareness.
Being political and outspoken when needed.
Acknowledging the imminent climate crisis and preparing for the impact on our own turf.
Be the best wildlife rehabilitator you can be – in the future you will be needed more than ever!
Pat Latas, DVM
IWRC Board of Directors
Editor’s note: University of Sydney Ecology professor Chris Dickman is estimating 1 billion animals have been killed thus far by the record-breaking wildfires in Australia, as of Jan 8, 2020.
IF YOU CONTINUE TO SCROLL DOWN, YOU WILL SEE DISTURBING IMAGES OF WILDLIFE AFFECTED BY FIRE
On Jan 2, Facebook user Nick Ritar posted the following ten photos taken at Bastion Beach in Mallacoota, Victoria and said:
“Birds of Eastern Australia 2020
2. Rainbow Lorikeet
4. Top Knot Pigeon
6. New Holland Honeyeater
8. Gang-gang Cockatoo
10. Barn Owl
This is what climate change looks like.”
Editors note: specimen identifications were his, and frankly – there’s really no need to publicly speculate or correct them at this point in time.
Editors note: The act of compiling this post has been enough shake me to my core. Just like you, I feel utterly devastated and every image actually feels like someone is trying to pull my heart out of my chest. I have cried, wanted to punch someone (preferably a climate denier) and seriously considered screaming into a pillow as a release. But none of those things will help the people and animals that are suffering and I know the only thing I actually can do to help them is to donate. This is yet more reason for me to get back to work on IWRC’s Disaster Preparedness project so that we – all wildlife rehabbers -can all be ready to respond to these events in the future. I’ve lived through several big fire outbreaks here in southern California and I can honestly say that the only thing the local rehabbers needed from the outside rehabbers was money and moral support. So please, choose one or more of the rehab affiliated links that we have listed on this Facebook post and donate. – Brooke Durham
With just a month or so to go before another year closes out, the team at the IWRC have been reflecting on our past couple of years’ accomplishments which are accelerating year on year. Front of mind is that none of our work is possible without the generosity of our supporters around the globe, and equally, that all of our work should be accessible, for all wildlife professionals, around the globe.
Sincere thanks to all our members and industry supporters who recognise the value of the education we provide and believe in our mission; to provide evidence-based education and resources on wildlife rehabilitation to move the field of wildlife rehabilitation forward; to promote wildlife conservation and welfare; and to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts worldwide, through the better understanding of wild animal ecology, behavior and welfare. By joining us you help to elevate our organization’s credibility which symbiotically helps us to generate funds to deliver current, relevant and informative education material.
Over the last 2 years we have seen a rise in demand and here are a few wonderful stats over the last few years;
1300 members across 23 countries now utilise our Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation
1495 books ranging from animal behaviour, wildlife rehabilitation, wildlife nutrition, wildlife medical care, wildlife parasitology were delivered to professionals in 2018.
35 classes in basic wildlife rehab, pain and wound management, oil spill volunteering, parasitology, reuniting raptors, and zoonoses were delivered to 885 students in 5 countries.
As we move into 2020 we aim to start reaching out to the broader community, those not actively engaged with wildlife on a daily basis yet who are compassionate toward the work we do. Individuals and corporations who care about raising the standards within wildlife rehabilitation and are as excited as we are about making evidenced-based wildlife education accessible to more corners of the globe, for more humans and in turn for more animals.
Our field is constantly evolving and we see firsthand how science based information makes positive change for wildlife. We stand firm in supporting the protection and conservation of endangered wildlife and aim to prevent non endangered species from becoming threatened.
Wherever and however you engaged with us this past year, either through taking a course, joining or renewing your membership, approving a grant, signing a cheque, creating a fundraiser, or donating time to volunteer, we thank you for joining us on this journey, as we continue to generate the funds, to improve Wildlife Care Worldwide.
On behalf of the Development Committee and Board of Directors.
IWRC founding board member and former Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation editor Gary Bogue died at his Bay area home this September at age 81. In December of 1974, Gary, curator at the Alexander Lindsay Junior Museum, was one of eight individuals to sign the articles of incorporation for IWRC, at the time called Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. He had been involved with IWRC since the earliest of board minutes – January 17, 1974, and although I have no records, likely as early as a 1972 consortium of rehabilitators where the gem of IWRC began.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s Gary had a column in the Wildlife Journal (Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation). In Fall of 1982 he took over as Journal Editor. By all accounts, Gary was heavily involved with the founding and development of IWRC.
Gary, we are grateful for your passion and perseverance on behalf of wildlife!
The following is the third in a short series of posts from IWRC staff and board members who attended the WDA Conference at Granlibakken Resort in Tahoe City, California USA in August 2019
Multiple-drug resistance in wildlife
From the 2019 Wildlife Disease Association Conference, several presentations gave great cause for worry. The number of documented multi-antibiotic resistant infections in wildlife is increasingly more serious. Anthropogenic exposure is causing never-treated wildlife to host serious pathogens that will require specialized and aggressive antibiotic therapy; these organisms also could endanger rehabilitators and staff.
Wildlife as diverse as the kodkod, also called güiña (Leopardus guingna) in Chile and the California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) in California have microbial flora with multiple antibiotic resistance, reflecting the urban and agricultural environments in which they live.
Irene Sacristan and her team investigated antibiotic resistance genes in the güiña in Chile. PCR testing was used to identify genes associated with antimicrobial resistance; and since these genes are considered to be environmental contaminants, the results could be used to compare anthropogenic impact. The felines most exposed to human disturbance had the highest drug-resistant genes (including MRSA), but even pristine environments showed influence. The use of affordable PCR testing will become more and more important to diagnosis and characterization of diseases in our wildlife, and rehabilitators should be ready and educated for the time it actually happens.
Peter Sebastian and his team at UC Davis working with California condors examined cloacal E. coli (Escherichia coli) patterns of multiple-drug microbial resistance. The variation in the E. coli resistance depended upon the food source, and it is possible that those birds feeding on livestock carcasses may reflect antimicrobial resistance in livestock; and thereby environmental contamination.
Gulls in Alaska were shown to have multiple-drug antimicrobial resistance when their E. coli genome was sequenced. Christina Ahlstrom and collaborators found that trash-dump birds traveled locally and, by satellite tracking, were shown to travel as far south as southern California and East Asia. The potential of acquisition and dispersal of multi-drug resistant E. coli has many ramifications for human, environmental and animal health.
Marine mammals of the Salish Sea are being evaluated for multiple-drug resistant E. coli by Stephanie Norman and her collaborators. Seals and porpoises are showing evidence of such, and studies are on-going.
It is a lesson to all of us in wildlife rehabilitation to base antibiotic use on evidence: bacterial culture and antibiotic sensitivity should direct treatment, rather than just reaching for that vial of “xyz” for every animal. And a reminder that wildlife from urban and agricultural areas are highly likely to have resistant infections even if they never had antibiotics ever in their life! It is also a lesson for wildlife rehabilitators to collect good data and so contribute to research, disease survey and surveillance. And speaking of good data: every wildlife rehabber is important and can contribute significantly to both specific and overall knowledge bases. Early detection of disease or issues is at the doorstep of first-responder wildlife careers. Who are the boots-on-the-ground in the beginning of an outbreak, mortality, stranding, poisoning or other event? Several speakers mentioned the value of biologist/One-Health/disease surveillance collaborations with wildlife rehabilitation centers. It was gratifying to hear that the disease professionals value contributions from our community.
Pox viruses (Poxviridae) are an important disease for rehabilitators to understand. Amanda MacDonald and her team investigated pox viruses and found that different pox isolates are restricted to different taxa, but sporadic and evolving strains have the potential to infect more than one species. This information of extreme importance to managing outbreaks. For the rehabilitators, knowing these facts will help with bio-security and isolation policies.
A lot is happening on the wildlife vaccine front. Real progress has been made on a White-nose syndrome with an oral, mass application carrier-virus vaccine for bats, and gives hope to the eventual protection of threatened populations and hibernacula.
Investigation into an effective oral formulation of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) vaccine may be a good approach to protect wildlife in anthrax-endemic areas. Allison Fricht from Texas A&M University discussed the development of an oral anthrax vaccine for ruminants, wildlife and livestock. This is an important development to protect animals in regions where anthrax is endemic. The problem with ruminants is their many stomachs will denature oral vaccines and render them inactive or digested. Having a formulation that can be incorporated into feed or forage is a great advancement.
Vaccine trials in roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) with a tick vaccine show promise in controlling tick infestations in Spain, as described by presenter Isabel García Fernández de Mera.
Reptiles and amphibians were well-represented, with some great presentations on very frightening emerging and new diseases. Rehabbers especially in the southeast USA, but in reality, all across the globe, should be on the look-out for unusual oral and skin lesions in their herps. The diagnostic trail can usually start with a simple swab and finding the right lab. Fungal lesions are increasingly common, and some of the amphibian diseases thought to be ONLY in salamanders are now known to have the potential to infect anurans (frogs and toads). And sadly many of the novel diseases are likely related to the pet trade and trafficking, and “exotic” disease can appear anywhere and cause epidemics in local fauna.
Bunyavirus in turtles (softshells and cooters) – oral lesions and ulcers and plaques on other soft tissues along with severe internal organ lesions were examined by Lisa Shender and her team along the St. Johns River in Florida, USA. They discovered an underlying, new virus affecting all of them. The infection is similar and the virus is identical to one found in farmed turtles a number of years ago. Lethal new and emerging diseases are a serious threat to any vulnerable species and chelonians in general are under great threat and pressure.
It may seem esoteric, but having tissue culture cell lines from amphibians and reptiles is absolutely essential for detecting and diagnosis of diseases. Cell lines are very difficult from herps, and for many years there were only a handful of them in existence. Cell cultures are used especially in viral diseases and difficult parasites and demanding bacteria. Tracy Logan and her research team at the University of Florida were able to develop a number of lines that will be integral to diagnosis in herp diseases.
Truly horrifying and associated with climate change and animal trafficking and the exotic pet trade: serious, fatal fungal diseases. The chytrid fungus is well-known for debilitating disease in frogs and toads, but the Bsal (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans) chytrid, infecting salamanders in Europe, may appear in the New World at any time. A team from the University of Tennessee looked into the possibility that Bsal not only could infect salamanders but potentially could spill over into frogs and toads. The animals developed typical lesions. This fungus could represent a serious threat to non-salamanders. Both this fungus and the other chytrid mycotic diseases in amphibians have been associated with legal and illegal trafficking of amphibians for the pet trade. Rehabbers should be alert to amphibian diseases, take appropriate samples, submit for testing, and be prepared for and assume all are highly contagious until proven otherwise.
Nicola Peterson and team from Australia were involved in a real-life detective story, tracing severe fungal disease in water dragons (Physignathus). Until very recently, mixed fungal diseases were described only from captive/pet animals. A recent outbreak in a city park is now confirmed from multiple locations. There is evidence that the original “patient zero” was a sick pet that was witnessed being released into the park. More reason than ever for rehabilitators to be vigilant, be aware that the pet trade adversely impacts wild populations, and to be prepared for multiple layers of diagnosis.
Hair samples can be analyzed via spectrometry to reveal health status of populations. Hair is easy to collect, store, archive and identify. Jesper Moshbacher and many international collaborators analyzed trace elements from muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) and showed that hair analysis was practical and useful tool, especially in remote and infrequently sampled regions.
Several talks concerned sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabiei) outbreaks, which may have become a global crisis. From South America to California.
A team from the University of California Davis monitored a small population of endangered San Joaquin kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis mutica) and described potential routes of infection, den climate favorable to the mites, and proposed possible control measures. Another team from California Department of Fish & Wildlife compared various canid hosts and the genetic make-up of their mites, to determine if coyotes, foxes and dogs could be involved. They found the mites to be host specific and recommended treatment focusing on the kit foxes.
Some frightening news has come out of California and Australia. Chlamydia infections are quite complicated and more sophisticated testing may be required. Not all Chlamydia are the same and novel species have been found in in native pigeon species and in raptors.
Helena Stokes and her team from Deakin University in Australia have found that infection by “regular” Chlamydia species in native parrots, people, and chickens can flow in all directions, with all pathogens and affect the host species in different ways. A lot more work needs to be done, including testing for novel species of Chlamydia.
Michelle Hawkins lead an investigation into characterizing and describing a new species of Chlamydia associated with severe disease in raptor species in California. It may be important to test sick birds for chlamydia by PCR and in addition request genome sequencing. Collaboration with investigators could be valuable.
It was nice to hear from the world of invertebrates. We rehabbers may be asked to gain skills with invertebrate care and release in the near future, as climate crisis impacts more biodiversity. Ania Majewska from the University of Georgia investigated the protozoan parasites in Monarch butterflies in relation to urbanization.
Having been a fan of @WhiteAbalone since they started their Twitter account, I was thrilled to attend Blythe Marshman’s talk on white abalone (Haliotis sorenseni), an endangered species, and the rickettsial withering Syndrome. The presentation tied together the impact of overfishing, stress, changing water temperatures, and pathogen interactions. The care and compassion shown for the animals in their care was very inspiring.
Environmental conditions that favor algal overgrowth can be related to mass casualties in waterbirds. Corinne Gibble and her co-authors showed the brain pathology associated with both acute and sub-lethal toxin exposure.
Vectors and vectors-borne infections were the subject of a number of the talks. Francisco Ruiz-Fons and his team investigated Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) associated with ticks of the genus Hyalomma and red deer (Cervus elaphus) in southern Europe. This virus represents a possible threat to hunters and other humans who handle the animals (rehabilitators, veterinarians, etc). The disease may be widespread and rehabilitators should be aware of ticks, tick bites, and animals suffering from vector-borne disease.
Climate change and human activities may be influencing the distribution of ticks and their pathogens. In Norway, Carlos das Neves sampled many species of ungulates for hepatitis E and tick-borne encephalitis virus, both of which can infect humans and livestock, and demonstrated ungulates as valuable sentinels for early detection of emerging disease.
Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) in upland game birds was detected in wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), and American woodcock (Scolopax minor) from Pennsylvania, USA, and Christopher Cleveland from University of Georgia suggested these species may act as a reservoir for Lyme disease and the tick vector diseases.
Speaking of vectors, West Nile virus may be implicated in declining population numbers of the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus). Climate conditions may become more favorable to mosquito vectors. Julie Menotti with Michigan Department of Natural Resources and her team investigated the presence of West Nile virus in dead and ill birds and recommended further studies. A study from Pennsylvania presented by Dominica Dec Peevy from Penn State covered landscape and mosquito characteristics and how they may influence risk factors for West Nile epidemics.
Sub-lethal exposure to rodenticides is common in bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), as reported by Kevin Niedringhaus. Exposure was detected in about 83% of golden eagles and 76% bald eagles, but mortality was about 4%. The effects on the population, and on individual birds, needs to be evaluated. As rehabilitators, you may be able to record exposure levels and contribute valuable data to the ongoing inquiry. We know, in other species, that sub-lethal exposure to anticoagulant rodenticides can have drastic impact on individual animals, and the more data we gather, the more we can assess and mitigate the impact.
An exciting study on post-release monitoring in hummingbirds using RFID (radio-frequency identification) might inspire some creativity. Ruta Bandivadekar from the University of California, Davis described a study of hummingbirds in rehabilitation and what methodologies impacted survivability. Post-release monitoring was integral to the study, and showed that RFID and PIT tags can contribute significant value to the available data.
Moral of the story, WDA 2019: we are a team!
Collaborations are incredibly important, valued, and sought. Wildlife rehabilitators can contribute directly to the knowledge base of wildlife disease and should be active partners in investigations.
The study of wildlife disease has matured and evolved. In order to implement effective solutions policy-makers, community leaders, sociologists, socio-economic experts, economists and other experts need to be engaged and invited onto teams. Discovering and describing diseases should be based on impeccable scientific inquiry, but successful implementation of change, mitigation of problems, and practical solutions will require outside help. Wildlife health workers must not be afraid of engaging outside experts and pushing their own comfort zones. Teamwork, engagement, and empowerment of professional networks, local communities, and colleagues is the only way that we will all mitigate the current climate crisis and anthropogenic catastrophe. Wildlife rehabilitators need to embrace scientific method, sharing, and collaboration in order to protect the precious creatures and environments we love; and to which we owe a debt and duty.
The following is the second in a short series of posts from IWRC staff and board members who attended the WDA Conference at Granlibakken Resort in Tahoe City, California USA in August 2019
Q&A with Julissa Angius
What were your favorite talks/papers?
(in no particular order)
“They’re always there”: Characterizing rat exposure and its consequences among residents of an impoverished, inner-city neighborhood in Vancouver, Canada presented by Dr. Chelsea G. Himsworth
This not not only gave an interesting look at how urban rats live and socialize, it gave commentary on the human aspect of those living around and with the rats. This goes into the human and social inequalities in a rather affluent modern city.
White Abalone (Haliotis sorenseni) resilience in the face of extinction: mitigating disease impacts on endangered abalone in a captive breeding program presented by Ms. Blythe Marshman
Just cool because sometimes you don’t think about animals such as these! AND they are going extinct! We just need to be aware of those animals outside of our normal scope.
Integration of Wildlife and Environmental Health into a One Health Approach presented by Dr. Jonathan Sleeman
I am interested on how to integrate the One Health approach into our classes and make it relevant to wildlife rehabilitators. Jonathan is a great speaker and gave some great insight into this subject.
Modeling land-sea transmission of Toxoplasma gondii presented by Dr. Tristan Burgess
Goes into how toxo is transmitted from the land to the sea and those marine creatures affected. Nothing is too big or small to cross-contaminate! Yikes!
Development of a killer whale health database to assess individual and population health of southern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) presented by Dr. Forrest Gomez
Illustrates how different organizations can work together with some technology to create an amazing tool that is organized and full of detail to track the health of these animals.
Early detection of health events through temporal anomalies in wildlife admissions at rehabilitation centers presented by Dr. Pranav Pandit
Whoot! Go Rachel and Devin! Excellent study on how rehabilitators can be an alert system to other wildlife professionals through an accessible database for all! Bringing the ‘little people’ to the big people table!
Did you learn something that wildlife rehabbers should really be aware of or concerned about?
Yes, rehabbers should really invest in going to conferences such as these, not just rehab type conferences, to broaden the mind on what is out there! This is definitely my favorite conference because of its diversity on every level!
Were there old friends that you ran into or reconnected with? Did you meet new acquaintances?
Yes! Especially all the IWRC types! We don’t get to see each other in person so much and it’s so beneficial, socially and work wise!
Definitely got to meet and engage with new people that I never would have outside of this conference!
Who did you talk about IWRC or wildlife rehabilitation with that perhaps you would only ever have a chance to talk to at a Wildlife Disease Association event?
There is the lovely forensic veterinarian from the forensic lab in Ashland. The new vice-president of WDA and USGS person Tom DeLiberto.
The following is the first in a short series of posts from IWRC staff and board members who attended the WDA Conference at Granlibakken Resort in Tahoe City, California USA in August 2019
I’ve recently returned home from the 2019 Wildlife Disease Association Conference, my first one. I highly recommend this meeting to any academic or disease minded rehabilitator (2020 Spain, 2021 Madison, 2022 Georgia, 2023 Australia). The first keynote, by Dr Pieter Johnson focused on community ecology as a tool for understanding parasite interactions and anticipating disease risk. Traditionally these scientific ways of thinking had little overlap. This talk set an excellent conference tone of collaboration across artificial boundaries and a true One Health view of the world.
The attendees were diverse in field, location, language, and age. I was able to spend time with IWRC staff (Julissa), board (Brooke Durham, Mandy Kamps, Pat Latas), members (several!), and instructor (Rob Adamski) and our NWRA colleagues. I was also able to meet with rehabilitators from South Korea (전북야생동물센터 Jeonbuk Wildlife Center) and Chile (Refugio Animal Cascada) researchers in South Sudan, Bangladesh, India, Norway, and Australia, and bend the ear of regulators in several countries about the benefits of wildlife rehabilitation.
It wasn’t just me talking about wildlife rehabilitation, though I certainly did enough of that in the corridors and at meals. Several speakers wove wildlife rehabilitation into their talks, even more obtained data from animals brought in to wildlife rehabilitation. Most thrilling was the work that Terra Kelly, Pranav Pandit and their team did, collaborating with WRMD to create a first of its kind early alert system. With buy-in from multiple California rehabilitators, they integrated with the data wildlife rehabilitators were already entering to see trends in disease that spanned beyond a single rehabilitator. Imagine, 2 murres here, 5 there, another 6 over there, and pretty soon a pattern emerges (or doesn’t).
Wildlife rehabilitation centers are “uniquely poised to advance knowledge of threats to wildlife health and populations”
My takeaway from the 2019 Wildlife Disease Association Conference “Fostering Resiliency in a Time of Change” was that we need a true One Health approach to disease management for the good of all species, and that wildlife rehabilitation must be a player on the ‘big stage’ of global health.
– Kai Williams, Executive Director
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