Under the rapidly changing climatic conditions and human disturbances to wildlife, the rise and spread of new diseases is an emerging threat to wildlife on a potentially global scale. This is why ZSL is developing new tools and setting up new initiatives to track wildlife health. The information we gather might allow us to understand and limit the catastrophic damage that virulent diseases can cause.
Monitoring the Health of British Wildlife with Your Help
ZSL's Institute of Zoology (IoZ) monitors the health of British wild animals through several citizen science projects. The Garden Wildlife Health project keeps tabs on diseases in wildlife in our back gardens using samples and reports from members of the public. The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme relies on reports from citizen scientists. Monitoring the spread of squirrel pox in our dwindling population of red squirrels was only possible with the public's help. Volunteers were crucial to the success of the nation wide Big Swab for chytrid fungus infection and the Frog Mortality Project that established the role of Ranavirus infection in common frog declines.
Conservation Health Checks
The IoZ is developing methods to analyse the risk of disease to conservations interventions, such as reintroductions. This is particularly important because it helps ensure that when we release or move animals we are neither introducing new diseases into the habitat that might affect local wildlife nor releasing animals that are unlikely to be successful in their new environment. Find out more about disease risk analysis .
For example, in our recent reintroduction of Whipsnade-bred corncrakes back into the wild in the UK, every single bird was thoroughly checked for ailments before release, and monitored afterwards. Similarly, for our Idmi reintroduction in Saudi Arabia, each antelope had to be caught and vetted before release. It is time consuming but vital.
We have wildlife health projects for key conservation species with small or declining populations, such as the Amur leopard and Amur tiger and the adder . When every individual is vital to species survival, tracking the health of each animal allows us to ensure no diseases spread, and to assess how faesible a reintroduction might be. The work with great apes in Central Africa is of particular importance, because of the possibility of transmission of diseases between humans and great apes.
Wildlife Health Reveals Other Threats
Knowing the health of populations is important in its own right, but it can also tell us key information about how other threats, especially climate change, are affecting species. The Penguin Lifelines project in Antarctica uses 'DNA fingerprinting' from feather samples to gather vast amounts of information about the health of the colonies, and so gain insight into how they might be being affected by climatic changes and sea-ice shifts in the Antarctic. Find out about about Penguin Lifelines