New report shows UK at risk from deadly diseases
Monday 13 June 2005
ZSL calls for new agency to protect UK from wildlife disease
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has revealed findings from a new report which has potentially identified the causes and spread of wildlife disease across the world. The report shows that Britain is lagging behind other countries such as France and Canada in the monitoring of deadly emerging infectious diseases (EIDs). As a result of this report, ZSL is calling on the UK government to set up a co-ordinated national monitoring agency to protect human and animal populations from EIDs.
Our report clearly demonstrates the need for increased vigilance if we are to avoid devastating outbreaks of fatal diseases, the like of which was seen in the UK with foot and mouth and in Asia with bird flu.
Around 75 percent of EIDs in humans come from animals (including AIDS, Bird Flu and West Nile Virus) and yet many commercial traders, hunters, hobbyists and tourists continue to move animals across borders with little scrutiny.
“The situation must improve if we are to avoid repeats of the tremendous socio-economic damage caused by foot and mouth, SARS, bird flu, badger tuberculosis and others,” commented Dr Andrew Cunningham, head of wildlife epidemiology, Zoological Society of London. ”It is essential that the UK has increased protection from the danger of EIDs as they can devastate our already threatened native wildlife and pose a real hazard to human health.”
Britain has already lost many native species due to the lack of a co-ordinated scheme to monitor wildlife disease. Examples of this needless destruction include the decline of the red squirrel due to the parapox virus, the death of hundreds of thousands of native frogs due to ranavirus, and the almost complete extinction of crayfish at the hands of fungal disease. ZSL believes the only way to meet this danger head on is to set up a nationwide disease monitoring agency to provide advance warning of threats to the health of the UK’s human and animal populations.
Facts about ZSL's EID study
- An emerging infectious disease (EID) is defined as a disease that has recently increased in incidence or geographic range, found in a new host species or is caused by a novel pathogen. They can occur in humans, crops, domestic animals, wild animals or plants. A classic example from recent decades is Dutch elm disease that arrived in Britain in the 1960s, killing more than 20 million trees.
- The Institute of Zoology (IoZ) is the research division of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). It is a government-funded research institute specialising in scientific issues relevant to the conservation of animal species and their habitats.
- Dr Andrew Cunningham joined the Institute of Zoology in 1988 as Veterinary Pathologist for the Zoological Society of London; a job which involved carrying out diagnostic pathology on zoo and wild animal species. Since 2001, he has been Head of Wildlife Epidemiology at the IoZ, leading a team of researchers working on wildlife diseases, with particular reference to biodiversity conservation, on a wide range of animal taxa: from snails to whales.
- ZSL’s Institute of Zoology has been looking into the problem of wildlife disease for over 15 years.