Diseases do not discriminate; zoonotic diseases are ones that can be transferred between species, from wild animals to humans and from humans to animals. Uncontrolled disease epidemics have the potential to wipe out entire populations of wildlife in short periods of time, and they cause not only significant health problems but also economic problems for humans.

mosquito. Credit: Fabio Costa

Credit: Fabio Costa

Global climate change, emerging infectious diseases, zoonosis, are all stressors in the environment that make it even more challenging to conserve biodiversity, including wild animals and their habitats. Protected areas around the world are very important sinks for carbon dioxide, one of the primary global warming gases. These very same protected areas, which include national parks and sanctuaries, are crucially important for conserving biodiversity.

Ebola, tuberculosis, rabies, influenza (H5N1, H1N1), foot-and-mouth disease, Brucellosis, are just a few diseases that are having a devastating impact on wildlife populations. Many of these disease causing pathogens are highly contagious and capable of jumping species, especially between wildlife and humans. The impact on wildlife populations from these diseases is considerably increased today than it was in years past.

In addition, the health of wildlife and humans is inextricably connected to the health of the local environment. When the quality of the resource declines, the quality of life for those who depend upon it is diminished.  For instance, the clear-cutting of tropical forests can be directly linked to Malaria outbreaks. This is because soon after logging, water begins to pool in areas once covered by trees. Without trees to provide shade, local temperatures then increase. Wildlife populations once present in the forest, decrease, while Anopheles mosquitoes begin to thrive under these new conditions. Sickness due to malaria then becomes all too common among local communities.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s international program initiatives help avert and respond to disease outbreaks as they fund projects conducting disease research, wildlife population health monitoring, and disease containment on one side of the issue, and education campaigns for humans who come into contact with wildlife on the other.

Sharing 98% of their genetic material, humans and apes are affected by many of the same diseases. Infectious diseases like Ebola Hemorrhagic fever have caused the decline of African great ape populations. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the western gorilla population has dropped 60% due to Ebola in the past 15 years. What we often do not realize is that gorillas and chimpanzees are almost twice as vulnerable to the Ebola virus infection as humans.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, through its grants, works to reduce the potential for cross-transmission of diseases between humans and great apes; to gain a better understanding of the impact of Ebola on ape populations, the transmission of Ebola among wildlife, and the appropriate intervention strategy and critical control measures. FWS also aims to expand community-based wildlife disease surveillance networks in order to protect human and ape health with an improved early-warning system, also identifying key great ape populations where vaccination could play a role in improving conservation prospects like tourists and research sites; and helping veterinarians to provide diagnostics and treatment of great apes.