Over the past 50 years, the field of wildlife disease as an issue for concern has exploded in significance, mostly because of the increased realization that most emerging human diseases are "zoonotic," that is, diseases that can spread from people to other animals or vice-versa. USGS emeritus scientist Dr. Milt Friend, in an invited talk at the Wildlife Disease Association conference, will explore how and why the field of wildlife disease research has changed over the last 50 years.
One of the biggest differences, says Friend, is that until very recently, wildlife disease was not an important focus for the wildlife conservation community. "Now, though, a new wave of social environmentalism and public concerns about emerging zoonotic diseases are placing increased pressure on wildlife agencies to address disease 'crises' involving wildlife," Friend says.
He emphasizes, however, that emerging zoonotic diseases often result in double jeopardy for wildlife: not only do wildlife often suffer direct negative effects from a disease, they also endure indirect effects associated with actions taken to reduce human risks by suppressing wildlife populations.
In addition, says Friend, wildlife can also be jeopardized by actions taken if they happen to share diseases with domestic animals, even if those diseases do not pose a significant public health threat. "Conversely, within the wildlife conservation community, the role of disease as a factor for species extinctions is receiving increased worldwide attention," Friend noted.
This research was presented by the USGS at the Wildlife Disease Association Conference in the first week of August, 2009.
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