In part three of our talk with Dr. Michele Miller, the Chief Veterinary Officer and Director of the Center for Conservation Medicine at the Palm Beach Zoo, an expert on tuberculosis in wildlife populations, we discuss the state of funding to stop TB in wild animals. [click here for Part I and here for Part 2 of our series]
What is the state of funding for wildlife diseases?
Unfortunately, funding for wildlife diseases is not a high priority for most people. The Zoo Association does write grants to organizations that provide funding for conservation programs including the Morris Animal Foundation and the Conservation Endowment Fund. Individual donors also provide funding or supplies to help us develop diagnostic testing. Some of the diagnostic companies have been very kind in working with us, as well as private citizens. Ultimately, it is difficult to find funding for this type of work, but in some places the government is concerned enough to provide some small funds to investigate diseases in their own native wildlife populations.
Do you think that the public is aware of this problem?
I do not think the public is aware of the extent of TB in wildlife and the impact that it is going to have in upsetting the balance in the ecosystem. For example, if the lions, which are top predators in the African ecosystem, disappear, that will affect the other remaining prey species and their populations. If the number of lions diminishes, their prey may go uncontrolled and start to destroy their own habitat. Also, the disease can manifest in different ways in different species. Some animals may actually be threatened with extinction in that local population if they become infected. Further, it is also a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted between humans, domestic animals and wildlife. So we should be concerned about all of those groups.
Where can people go to find more information about tuberculosis in wildlife?
Certainly, the US Animal Health Association Committee on Tuberculosis has a lot of information. For those who are interested in diseases in elephants, I recommend that they go to www.elephantcare.org. Also, a number of textbooks are available, as well as articles published in the Journal of Wildlife Disease and the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine that talk about the impact of tuberculosis in all of these different species.
What can the public do to help this cause?
First, the public needs to increase its awareness of the impact of disease on wildlife populations. It is not entirely separate from all of the interactions that occur between the humans, domestic animals, and wild animals. An imbalance in any one of these groups can affect the overall health of the environment.
In addition to learning more about the problem, I would encourage concerned people to support organizations like the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International, Morris Animal Foundation and other groups that fund research on this disease.
* * * *
The Working Group on New Drugs thanks Dr. Michele Miller for sharing this information. To learn more about Dr. Miller and her work to eradicate TB in wild animals, please visit www.palmbeachzoo.org. You can join the fight to stop TB by increasing your awareness of the epidemic and supporting research efforts worldwide.