African Wildlife Disease Database

To create a disease database for wildlife in South Africa


Wildlife health is an important issue in the conservation of wild populations and a successful management of ex-situ populations. New and emerging diseases are becoming an urgent issue, epitomized by the catastrophic declines in amphibian populations in recent years in at least four continents as a result of attack by a novel pathogenic fungus. Diseases may spread from one continent to another, as illustrated by the recent introduction of West Nile Virus into North America. Growing and expanding human populations are susceptible to zoonotic diseases such as ebola or avian influenza.


Southern Africa is in a unique position in the world due to its rich wildlife heritage. Wild animals are increasingly kept in human care, either privately or in zoos, or as part of sustainable wildlife utilization enterprises such as game farming, hunting, ecotourism and captive breeding programs for rare and endangered species. Rapid and accurate diagnosis of conditions and diseases affecting wildlife is essential but, at present, is performed only on an ad hoc basis in the country. In other words: A detailed pathology diagnostic service is needed in Southern Africa.


A more systematic approach would be beneficial to wildlife managers, breeders and conservationists, to facilitate timely treatment, reduce mortalities and prevent the spread of disease. Catalogues of normal tissues would be formed. Early warning of disease outbreaks, including those that could spread to humans would be possible and could greatly reduce the cost of such epidemics. In addition, the service would help ensure a healthy wildlife population and thus support the country’s vital ecotourism industry.


Since the National Zoological Gardens of South Afrcia (NZG), Pretoria, was incorporated into the National Research Foundation in 2004, it has developed research and science awareness as core functions in line with its vision of advancing awareness, knowledge generation, and innovation in the conservation of Africa's biodiversity for the benefit of society.


The present project has been set up with a view of providing a committed pathology diagnostic service for wildlife managers throughout South Africa. Necropsy and histological examinations are conducted and detailed reports on the findings provided, using the Institute of Pathology - University of Pretoria, Golden VetLab, Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute and Faculty of Veterinary Science - University of Pretoria, and other laboratories as needed for conducting diagnostic tests. Arrangements for the processing and storage of samples are made at the Wildlife Biological Resource Centre at the National Zoological Gardens, and a database of all necropsies performed is maintained.


Necropsy examinations take place at the National Zoological Gardens Veterinary Hospital and in the field. The Veterinary Hospital has laboratory facilities for the handling of samples and reading of slides. The preparation and staining of slides has to be done in one of the major laboratory centres in Pretoria. Disposal of carcasses will be conducted by the National Zoological Gardens incinerator facility. Diagnostic capacities of various laboratories in the country are advanced and readily available. Considerable interest is voiced in conducting research, both Nationally and Internationally, into wildlife diseases and conditions, and this project is designed to fill that need.

Expected benefits from this programme include early identification of emerging animal and human diseases, rational guidelines to translocation, quarantine and testing protocols, a central information centre for wildlife managers, veterinarians and pathologists, and relevant research projects focussed on animal welfare, health and biodiversity. To this end, collaboration with other South African pathologists from outside the NZG was obtained to include their cases in the wildlife pathology database. In addition, long-term collaborative projects are underway including surveys of intestinal parasites of free-ranging birds (with the Faculty of Veterinary Science), surveys of viral pathogens carried by bats (with the University of Pretoria), comparative anatomical studies (with Wits University), nutritional studies (with Tshwane University of Technology, University of Stellenbosch and Faculty of Veterinary Science), disease at the human-domestic animal- wildlife interface as part of the AHEAD program for the Greater Limpopo Transfronteir National Park, as well as emerging disease surveillance and the interface bewteen human and animal diseases at the NZG (with the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa).


WAZA Conservation Project 05014 is supported by the National Zoological Gardens, Feline Taxon Advisory Group of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, and Endangered Wildlife Trust.


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