Saving Darwin's Fox: A Conservation Medicine Approach

To mitigate disease risks to Darwin's foxes in Chile

 

Darwin's fox (Lycalopex fulvipes) is currently considered to be one the most threatened species of carnivores worldwide. Recognised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, this canid is endemic to the temperate forests of the coastal range of southern Chile. Initially known exclusively from Chiloé Island, in 1990 a mainland population was reported at Nahuelbuta National Park (600 km north of its insular range) and since 2012 the species has been reported in intermediate areas.

 

Buin Zoo, a member of both WAZA and ALPZA, works in the south of Chile for the conservation of the Darwin's fox. We work with this species through our Conservation and Research Department, which was created in 2010 with the goal of developing conservation sciences applied to native endangered species. We have been working in two core areas of conservation: a training courses programme that has received over 1,000 attendees from 11 Latin American countries in the last years; and a research programme that focuses on the impact of infectious diseases on wildlife in ex situ and in situ environments and evaluates control measures in order to reduce the damage of this hazard in endangered species. Viruses, particularly rabies and canine distemper virus, have being reported as significant threats to many canid species. Considering that no information was available concerning the health status of wild populations of Darwin's foxes, Buin Zoo's Conservation and Research Department in 2012 launched a disease surveillance programme in the field to evaluate the risk of outbreaks in both the insular and continental range of the species. This programme has grown; up to date 34 animals have been sampled for more than 30 pathogens and several peer-reviewed scientific publications have been produced to share the results with the scientific community.

 

A new addition to our research is the development of a project to compare pathogen prevalence in areas with different levels of anthropogenic intervention where Darwin's foxes occur. We have extended our research to also sample other species of carnivores that share their ecosystem with this threatened canid. Additionally, we are sampling domestic dogs and vaccinate them to avoid spill-over to wild carnivores. This is particularly important in Chile where domestic dogs have a major negative impact on wildlife by both predation and spreading diseases. In the upcoming years, we aim to create a diseases risk analysis that will be useful when evaluating the need to translocate Darwin's foxes to other areas. We have created a serum and tissue bank with samples from this species in order to have samples available for retrospective studies and to share them with other institutions.

 

Within this project we have been providing opportunities for the development of local capacities for students and scientists who work in our research. These efforts have allowed us to produce several opportunities for students of veterinary medicine who want to do their thesis with us. Scientific outcomes include physiological values for haematology and biochemistry, detection of two previously undescribed parasites as well as feline mycoplasmas reported in the species and the first gamaherpesvirus for both a canid species and a carnivore in Latin America. Since 2013 we are part of a multi-institutional alliance between our zoo, two universities, a private reserve and an NGO from Chiloé Island to potentiate the collection of samples for health, genetic and ecological studies. This initiative has included additional activities that contribute to Darwin's fox conservation, including a training course in the field with students of conservation disciplines, collaborative work with academia and private reserves, and participation in different stakeholder meetings in which Chilean government agencies have been involved.

 

In September 2015, Buin Zoo hosted the course "Canids Conservation and Management" with lectures by the chair of the IUCN SSC Canid Specialist Group and many experts working on genetics, health, management and ecology of Darwin's fox. This was a unique forum for different groups working with the species as well as representatives of the Ministry of Environment of Chile, currently working on the design of the species' national conservation plan. The event included a forum that produced valuable information to update the species' conservation status assessment by the IUCN SSC Canid Specialist Group. For the upcoming years we will keep running our programme, increasing the areas of study, establishing new alliances and advocating for the species' conservation. Buin Zoo remains committed to the survival of Darwin's fox through cooperation will all parties interested in protecting this small canid.

 

WAZA Conservation Project 15008 is implemented by Parque Zoológico Buin Zoo. Other stakeholders involved in the project include the Universidad Catolica, Asociación Comunitaria Chiloé Silvestre, Universidad de Castilla la Mancha, Universidad de San Sebastian, Universidad de Chile, Parque Tantauco and Universidad Andrés Bello.

 

Visit www.buinzoo.cl.

 

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  • Darwin's Fox Conservation

    Darwin's Fox Conservation

    (1) © Javier Cabello, (2) - (4) © Buin Zoo

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