Award Photo CVM  

Advancing the health and well-being of animals and people

Principal Investigator:  Elizabeth Bunting
Co-Investigator: Laura Bigler
Co-Investigator: Elizabeth Buckles

Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences
Contact Information:   Email:; Phone: 607-253-3900
Sponsor:  Wildlife Conservation & Shelter Medicine Program: John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation
Grant Number: N/A
Title: Perspectives in Wildlife Management  
Annual Direct Cost:  $14,550
Project Period:  05/01/2012-04/30/2014

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant):  In the past 20 years the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has faced the emergence of a number of disease crises in state wildlife populations, including Chronic Wasting Disease in white tailed deer (2005), White Nose Syndrome in bats (2006) and West Nile virus in passerine birds (1999). These diseases have had substantive impacts on survival of wildlife species and posed significant economic threats to game species on which the state depends to generate conservation funding through hunting licenses. Recent studies have documented a long-term global rise in emerging infectious diseases, noting that almost half of these outbreaks stem from zoonotic pathogens originating in wildlife populations. Alarmingly, New York State and the northeastern United States are considered a global “hotspot” for future disease outbreaks.

Public health officials, veterinarians, and wildlife professionals have since recognized that disease often does not respect species boundaries, and that coordinated multidisciplinary efforts are necessary both to understand transmission dynamics and to develop effective management strategies. This approach is often referred to as the “One Health” paradigm. Although specialists in the diagnosis and management of animal disease are needed in state and federal wildlife agencies to develop more comprehensive surveillance and management programs, only about half of the states have an official state wildlife veterinarian or wildlife health program. Historically, veterinarians and wildlife biologists have not had strong working relationships. Traditional wildlife biology centers on the study and management of free-ranging wild populations, with an emphasis on preserving these populations as a whole. Loss of individuals due to disease has often been viewed by ecologists as a minor part of normal population dynamics, removing aged or infirm individuals, rarely in need of examination or interference. When these field biologists have needed to handle individual animals (due to injury, threat to the public, or for research or management), they often are alone in remote locations with only minimal equipment available. Veterinary training, on the other hand, focuses students to think of disease and injury as abnormal states that should be addressed by the development of effective treatment and management strategies. However, the relative wealth of research and information on diseases of domesticated species stands in stark contrast to the lack of knowledge about the transmission, physiology and pathology of disease in wildlife species. This gap is often compounded by lack of understanding of the basic natural life histories of the species in question. These differences in disciplinary expertise and perspective have led to the historic separation of these professions.

In order to work together to address these emerging disease threats, veterinarians and biologists need to bridge this philosophical and practical divide through communication and multidisciplinary training, ideally beginning early in the course of a student’s professional training. A number of veterinary colleges (including Cornell) have residency training programs and elective coursework in management of captive exotic species and exotic pets, and care of injured or orphaned individual wild animals. Very few have programs devoted to free-ranging native wildlife, and even fewer have clear partnerships with state and federal wildlife organizations. In 2010 NYSDEC initiated a state-wide Wildlife Health Program in partnership with the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC). Cornell AHDC staff, including a wildlife veterinarian (Dr. Elizabeth Bunting), wildlife disease ecologist (Dr. Krysten Schuler) and pathologist (Dr. Elizabeth Buckles) specializing in zoo and wildlife medicine, have been working closely in the past months with DEC biologists and managers to finalize a strategic plan for the first 5 years of the cooperative program. Funding from this grant proposal would support 2 veterinary students with interest in wildlife conservation in summer internship positions each year for the next three years, focused on complementary training with veterinarians and biologists in the launch of the Wildlife Health Program. Specifically, student training would be structured into three program areas:

I.     Wildlife Health Program Initiative: The majority of the students’ experience would be participating in the ongoing development of the Wildlife Health Program. This includes assessment and tracking of wildlife disease cases, collecting data to design targeted surveillance for diseases of concern (e.g., Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD), assisting with disease training of field biologists, and conducting literature reviews to develop scientific positions for legislative and management activities of the DEC.
II.     Field Research: Students would spend at least 10% of their time accompanying field biologists performing research on free-ranging wildlife in New York State, such as bear trapping, goose banding, and rabies serosurveys.
III.     Policy Challenges: The students will shadow DEC biologists in various regions of New York State to gain perspective on the daily activities of a state wildlife biologist and the political, financial, public relations, and logistical issues that a state agency faces in fulfilling its mission of wildlife conservation.

The primary goals of the program are to enable students: 1) to train in the veterinary care and management of wildlife populations, 2) to better understand the challenges facing biologists and state agencies in field wildlife management, 3) to become familiar with biologists' views regarding wildlife issues, and 4) to use the understanding to improve the cooperative relationships between the two fields in conservation medicine.