Emerging and re-emerging diseases can pose a significant threat to the survival of wild animal populations and, if zoonotic, to human health as well. Recent examples of such disease outbreaks include the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, likely arising from an initial contact between a young child and a bat, and the outbreaks of Peste de Petit Ruminants (PPR) that have devastated Saiga antelope in Mongolia, after spreading from domestic livestock into wild populations. WCS Health Programs support many of our WCS landscapes in surveillance for diseases in wildlife populations and is training local teams on the ground to conduct basic surveillance that can inform central level teams and enable a rapid response to any outbreak.
WCS Health Programs' teams lead wildlife surveillance activities in Vietnam and Mongolia for USAID's PREDICT project, led globally by UC Davis, with a strong emphasis on local capacity building, and we have previously led such work in Cambodia and Lao PDR and several countries in Latin America. Through the LACANET project, WCS has contributed to building wildlife health surveillance network within and between the two countries of Lao PDR and Cambodia, by establishing collaborations with government and NGO partners in protected areas and rescue centers. In Cambodia, over 186 staff were trained to report and collect sick and dead wildlife. This includes forest rangers, wildlife monitoring team, rescue center staff, and other government staff from the environment, forestry and animal health sector. In Lao PDR, similar trainings involved over 120 staff. This has allowed the detection of significant health threats to wildlife, livestock and humans, such as cases of poisoning in protected areas, outbreaks of influenza A virus, as well as a carcinogenic virus outbreak in sun bears, which would not have been detected otherwise. The WCS Health Programs are now working to ensure the sustainability of these health surveillance mechanisms.