Disease Risk Analysis and Health Surveillance for Interventions (DRAHS)

Pit Scanning - Pool Frog
Scanning a Pool Frog
We are developing methods to analyse the risk of disease for translocations, such as reintroductions, undertaken for conservation purposes, using qualitative disease risk analysis and post-release health surveillance. In our largest project, which commenced in 1999, we work in partnership with Natural England to undertake disease risk analysis (DRA) and post-release health surveillance (PRHS) for the Species Recovery Programme, which conserves native endangered species in England. Peoples Trust for Endangered Species, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust also collaborate on this programme.  

Disease risk analysis is undertaken in the planning stage of an intervention such as a reintroduction. Translocations, including reintroductions, are important conservation tools, but they engender risk of disease to the translocated and recipient populations due to changes in host-parasite encounters, and stresses placed on the wild animal populations. The risk that infectious and non-infectious hazards will precipitate disease during or following intervention is analysed and mitigating measures are proposed. An important objective is to prevent the introduction of alien parasites (harboured by the translocated animal) to native animal populations, because parasite invasions have the potential to cause catastrophic mortality outbreaks in immunologically naïve populations. If the intervention proceeds, the mitigation measures, such as biosecurity, infectious agent screening and therapeutic regimes are enacted, while the health of the translocated and recipient populations are monitored through pre-release and post-release surveillance. Species we have worked with include hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), red kite (Milvus milvus), sand lizard (Lacerta agilis), pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae) and short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus).

When the project commenced methods to assess the risk of disease to wild animal interventions were rudimentary. Using methods available for domestic animal movements, we have developed a qualitative disease risk analysis appropriate for wild animal interventions. If a translocation crosses a geographic or ecological boundary (such as mountains or rivers, or a boundary separating ecological niches) the increased risk of disease is recognised and source and destination hazards require special attention. If quarantine barriers can be put in place, DRA can be more focused and infectious transport hazards can be ignored.  Hazards are evaluated throughout the reintroduction pathway, and these hazards include non-infectious agents of disease, such as toxins.  Post-release health surveillance is used to inform on unknown parasites which have previously avoided detection.

Key references on undertaking Disease Risk Analysis for Conservation Translocations:

Sainsbury AW, Vaughan-Higgins RJ. 2012. Analyzing disease risks associated with translocations. Conservation Biology 26: 442-452.

Rideout B, Sainsbury AW, Hudson PJ 2017.  Which Parasites Should We Be Most Concerned About in Wildlife Translocations?  Ecohealth 14: S42-S46

Bobadilla Suarez, M, Ewen, JG, Groombridge JJ, Beckmann K, Shotton J, Masters N,  Hopkins T, Sainsbury AW 2017.  Using Qualitative Disease Risk Analysis for Herpetofauna Conservation Translocations Transgressing Ecological and Geographical Barriers.  Ecohealth 14: S47-S60

Other recent DRAHS publications:

Vaughan-Higgins RJ, Masters N, Sainsbury AW  2017.  Biosecurity for translocations: cirl bunting (Emberiza cirlus), Fisher’s estuarine moth (Gortyna borelii lunata), short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus) and pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae) translocations as case studies.  Ecohealth 14: S84-S91

Hartley M, Sainsbury AW 2017.  Approaches to disease risk analysis in wildlife translocations for conservation purposes. Ecohealth 14: S16-S29

Peniche G, Bennett DJ, Olson PD, Wong L, Sainsbury AW, and Durrant C 2017 Protecting free-living dormice: molecular identification of cestode parasites in captive dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) destined for reintroduction.  Ecohealth 14: S106-S116

Brown MJF, Sainsbury AW, Vaughan-Higgins RJ, Measures GH, Jones CM, Gammans N 2017.  Bringing back a healthy buzz? Invertebrate parasites and reintroductions: a case study in bumblebees.  Ecohealth 14: S74-S83

Jeffs C, Davies M, Carter I, Gregson J, Sainsbury AW, Lister J 2016.  Reintroducing the cirl bunting to Cornwall.  British Birds 109:  374-388.

Sainsbury AW, Yu-Mei R, Ågren E, McGill IS, Molenaar F, Peniche G, Vaughan-Higgins RJ, Foster J 2016. Disease risk analysis and post-release health surveillance for a reintroduction programme: the pool frog  Pelophylax lessonae.  Transboundary and Emerging Diseases doi:10.1111/tbed.12545.

Fountain K, Jeffs C, Croft S, Gregson J, Lister J, Evans A, Carter I, Chang YM, Sainsbury AW 2016.  The Influence of Risk Factors Associated with Captive Rearing on Post-Release Survival in Translocated Cirl Buntings (Emberiza cirlus) in the UK.   Oryx doi:10.1017/S0030605315001313

Hopkins TH, Peniche G, Murphy S, Carter I, Shorrock G, Blunn G, Goodship AE and Sainsbury AW 2015.  Scanning electron microscopy and energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX) confirms shooting of a hen harrier (Circus cyaneus).  Veterinary Record Case Reports 3:e000241. doi:10.1136/vetreccr-2015-000241

Vaughan-Higgins R, Murphy S, Carter I, Pocknell A, Harris E, Sainsbury AW 2013.  Fatal epicarditis in a hen harrier (Circus cyaneus), a red-listed bird of high conservation concern in Britain associated with Cyathostoma species and Escherichia coli infection.  Veterinary Record 173: 477 doi: 10.1136/vr.101476

Jeanes, C., Vaughan-Higgins, R., Green, R.E., Sainsbury, A.W., Marshall, R.N., & Blake, D.P. 2013. Two new Eimeria species parasitic in corncrakes (Crex crex) (Gruiformes: Rallidae) in the United Kingdom. Journal of Parasitology doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1645/12-52.1

Peniche G, Vaughan-Higgins RJ, Carter I, Pocknell A, Simpson D and Sainsbury AW 2011. Long-term health effects of harness-mounted radio-transmitters in red kites (Milvus milvus) in England.  Veterinary Record 169: 311 :doi:10.1136/vr.d4600

Contact the Project Director; Tony Sainsbury, Project Veterinarian; Tammy Shadbolt, or Project Technician; Inez Januszczak for further information.

The Disease Risk Analysis and Health Surveillance Project is a part of the WILDCOMS Network.


  • If you are considering undertaking a translocation and would like further advice on how to assess the risks from disease please see our guidelines.