Reports of several unexplained amphibian mass mortalities, followed by the death of more than 50 starlings on a busy stretch of road; these are typical of a day’s events for Garden Wildlife Health (GWH), a project that aims to safeguard the health of British wildlife by conducting research into the causes and trends of diseases in a variety of species and investigating their impacts on the affected populations. Crucial to its success is the participation of the general public, who send in reports of sick and dead wildlife from gardens across Great Britain using our project website, www.gardenwildlifehealth.org.
GWH is a collaborative project between the Zoological Society of London, the British Trust for Ornithology, Froglife and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. ZSL takes the lead in day to day management with a team formed of Prof. Andrew Cunningham, Dr. Becki Lawson, Tim Hopkins, Shinto John, Gabriela Peniche and myself. With our origins in the Frog Mortality Project and the Garden Bird Health Initiative, we have spread our wings and expanded our remit from garden birds and amphibians to include hedgehogs and reptiles. In the last 12 months, we received more than 1400 reports of disease and examined 270 carcasses to post-mortem. Andrew and Becki oversee the project, publish reports and secure funding, while Tim and I respond to incident reports and perform post-mortem examinations. Shinto and Gabriela process samples and develop tests to detect and identify potential disease threats.
GWH has been responsible for the detection of several disease threats of potential conservation significance to our native wildlife species, including epidemic mortality in greenfinches caused by the parasite Trichomonas gallinae, and the emergence of a new and severe form of avian pox in great tits. From every wild animal that is examined, samples are archived into one of the largest wildlife tissue banks in the world which provides an important resource for future investigations. Currently, we are screening all our amphibian samples as part of a horizon scanning project for the new chytrid fungus threat, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans. Not content with current diagnostic techniques, we are also constantly developing new tests such as a novel PCR test to detect Suttonella ornithocola, a bacterium that can cause respiratory disease in tit species and which is notoriously difficult to culture.
Another mysterious report was the death of more than 50 starlings on a busy stretch of road in the Greater Manchester area. Evidence of blunt trauma was found on post-mortem examination and no signs of infectious disease were detected. Could it be that all 50 birds were involved in a road traffic collision? Although rare, there have been other reports of starling incidents where flocks of birds have been killed in road traffic incidents. Suggested reasons for the tragic event have included roost proximity to a major road, navigation error, predator evasion and/or distraction by local factors such as the light from traffic. Something to think about when you next see a flock of starlings overhead!
While our main role is to evaluate the impact of infectious and non-infectious disease on wildlife populations, we also conduct research on diseases of potential significance to public, livestock and companion animal health. For example, our work on salmonellosis has found clear evidence that salmonella can be passed from garden birds to humans in Britain. Also, through the project we have discovered that chlamydiosis, another disease that can infect humans, is more common in wild birds in Britain than had been previously considered. The GWH also provides best practice guidance on how to maximise the welfare of wildlife while minimising disease and other risks to both wildlife and people.
For more information on our work, see our website: www.gardenwildlifehealth.org
Wildlife Veterinarian/Postgraduate Research Assistant
Garden Wildlife Health (GWH)
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.