Nearly 400 participants from 25 countries, 38 states and nine provinces attended the 65th Annual Wildlife Disease Association Conference, hosted by the Wildlife Health Group and held July 31-Aug. 5 at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).
This year’s conference theme was “Sustainable Wildlife: Health Matters,” with a main focus on addressing the spread of diseases that pass from wildlife to humans and domesticated animals, and vice versa. Diseases such as AIDS, Ebola and the Zika virus have spread around the world with alarming speed, often catching medical and public-health authorities off guard.
“We always seem to be in a defensive mode,” said Cornell wildlife veterinarian Dr. Beth Bunting. “The goal of the conference was to consider wildlife health in a larger context, examining how factors like climate, ecosystem health, human interaction and genetics influence the emergence and spread of disease.”
Conference sessions covered the challenges that face Javan rhinos, the presence of chronic wasting disease in Norwegian reindeer, and a fungus that endangers hellbender salamanders in New York state. Speakers stressed the importance of exploring the environmental factors that trigger epidemics, communicating scientific data to policymakers more effectively, and increasing our understanding of how diseases are passed between species.
One speaker, epidemiologist Sarah Cleaveland, described a failed effort to vaccinate African wild dogs against rabies, causing the species to disappear. Critics blamed the program and the vaccine, though both were cleared, and local governments still banned the handling of wild dogs. “Expect controversy when intervening in wildlife populations,” warned Cleaveland.