Early detection of wildlife morbidity and mortality events facilitates a timely and appropriate response to disease threats and is a major limitation in the protection of wildlife, livestock, and public health. Wildlife health surveillance has been neglected locally, nationally, and globally because mandates and resources are often lacking. WCS is thus prioritizing the building of sustainable wildlife health surveillance networks, building upon its 20 plus years of health expertise and response to wildlife disease events around the world, and leveraging existing technology through the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) platform. WCS has been at the forefront of the development and implementation of SMART, along with multiple conservation partners. SMART is an open-source platform offering data collection, management, and analysis software focused on the management and monitoring of protected areas. SMART was initially built with a focus on law enforcement, delivering a set of best practices, training resources, and encouraging transparency and accountability. Today, SMART is deployed in close to 1,000 sites across the world including 16 national-scale systems that involve biodiverse regions considered higher risk for disease emergence.
Since the inception of SMART, around 50,000 rangers have received training, including 7,000 directly trained in WCS landscapes (https://smartconservationtools.org/). SMART represents an unprecedented network of globally distributed boots-on-the-ground and eyes-in-the-field that can act as sentinels for unusual events in remote areas. These are the same areas where key interfaces between humans and wildlife and key activities associated with disease spillover and emergence, such as poaching and land conversion, occur. For this reason, WCS has started tapping into this unparalleled resource and has enhanced SMART for the collection of wildlife health information by these sentinels at pathogen spillover frontlines, and to support real-time data communication from the field to focal data points. This is SMART for Health.
The open-source SMART for Health adaptation uses the three components of SMART (SMART Desktop, SMART Mobile, and SMART Connect). SMART Mobile in smartphones supports rapid, complete, and standardized collection of wildlife disease events detected by park rangers or field scientists. The information includes event description, animal characteristics, photographs, and specimens collected among others. SMART Mobile automatically tracks geolocation and can wirelessly send data to SMART Connect and Desktop, facilitating the real-time communication of wildlife disease events from remote areas (SMART Mobile) to senior officers (SMART Connect and Desktop). This information can be delivered as alerts, providing timely notification to trigger risk reduction actions and include expert consultations.
Global adoption of SMART for Health by current SMART users would support the timely and detailed reporting of wildlife disease events at the frontlines of spillover, and create an exceptional worldwide network of wildlife disease sentinels collecting and sharing data. Working with long-term in-country partners, this surveillance is designed to integrate with cross-sectoral national One Health platforms, including human, animal, and wildlife disease institutions and experts. SMART for Health is truly a game-changing tool for wildlife disease surveillance. With widespread and increasing accessibility of internet broadband and smartphone technology globally, there are no limitations in the development, adoption, and local to global scaling of SMART for Health. The challenge now lies in identifying the right organizations to iteratively train, implement, improve, and scale for impact.
Photo credits above: Female ranger in Nigeria using SMART mobile: DrewCronin/ NCZoo. Rangers using SMART in Thailand: WCS