PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR WILDLIFE HEALTH PROGRAMME

By Hezy Anholt and Rebecca Bloomfield

 

Our Clinical Projects in One Health play an important role in collecting data to inform conservation strategies locally, regionally, and nationally. If you follow us on Instagram, you may have seen some of the work involved: from microscopic imagery showing blood samples and parasites, to zebra photo surveys. But what is One Health and how does it aid conservation?

One Health is a trans-disciplinary concept. It is defined as “the integrative effort of multiple disciplines working together to attain optimal health for people, animals, and the environment.” Significant knowledge gaps exist on wildlife health in Malawi, so we apply a One Health approach by incorporating multiple species, demographics, paradigms, and scales of life in our research to solve health-related problems in a holistic and inclusive manner.

Our programme, Clinical Projects in One Health, leads clinical interventions, passive disease surveillance, and several targeted research projects in and around Malawi’s protected wildlife areas. People and animals live in close proximity in Malawi due to widespread reliance on domestic livestock, high human population density, and increasing settlement and soil cultivation adjacent to protected conservation areas. These factors all increase the risk of disease emergence for people, wildlife, and domestic animals. Through the collection of data, we are trying to achieve a better understanding of health and disease at the human-domestic-wildlife interface.

 

 

Projects in this program include:

Zebra monitoring – we are using the unique individual stripe patterns of zebra to compile a photo log of the herds at Kuti Wildlife Reserve. This allows us to identify sick individuals so that we can monitor their health and track disease processes. There are also benefits when it comes to anti-poaching efforts; we can identify which individuals are carrying snares, or if an animal goes missing our photo log can help us document that. The individual IDs also inform genetic studies and are critical to capture-recapture models from which animal abundance and density can be estimated. This data is then applied directly to wildlife management decisions in the park. 

African Swine Fever – we are using camera traps to identify warthog burrows and bushpig habitat, then sifting through the soil in search of Ornithodoros ticks. This is part of a larger study of African Swine Fever in Malawi and the risk that wild suids (e.g. bushpigs and warthogs) may pose (or not pose) to domestic pig production.

Parasite ecology – we are collecting fecal parasitology data on vervets and baboons, with a particular focus on parasitic roundworms and their implications for human and non-human primate health. We are also investigating the presence and significance of Toxocara vitulorum, a parasite of cattle, in wild antelope.   

Community surveillance – our community outreach officer conducts surveys on human-domestic-wildlife interactions and general human and animal health in the surrounding villages. 

Passive disease surveillance – we collect baseline health data on wildlife and domestic animals in and around the reserve. This is done through visual assessments, photos, fecal parasitology, other opportunistic sample collection, and necropsy.

 

baboon procedure

 

We are keen to inspire and help educate future veterinarians. Therefore, we offer opportunities for vet student externs to participate in Clinical Projects in One Health alongside CPOH’s project manager, Dr. Hezy Anholt, and our Head Veterinarian, Dr. Amanda Lee Salb.

The programme takes place at Kuti Wildlife Reserve, which is surrounded by farming communities and has a long history of community engagement. There are no ‘big five’ at Kuti, which makes for much safer fieldwork, and students will have the opportunity to get to know Africa’s lesser-known (but no-less splendid) wildlife species, such as bushbabies, genets, civets, hornbills, pythons, and more than ten species of antelope, not to mention zebra, warthog, and giraffe.

Our externs are trained on all relevant procedures, with ample mentorship and guidance available. If you would like to get involved in our Vet Externship Programme, click here to find out more.