Wildlife health

The study of wildlife disease is relatively new in Bolivia. Until recently, attention focused on diseases affecting domestic animals, however, the importance of the health status of wildlife has been increasing given the risks of disease transmission between domestic and wild animals and its impact on human health.

Since 1996, WCS has promoted studies and assessments of diseases in several species of wildlife in Bolivia. Samples were obtained during research and natural resource management activities, in wildlife health monitoring and in the La Paz and Oruro zoos. Results allowed identifying diseases that affect these species, some of which are transmitted by domestic animals.

A 2004 study on exposure of diseases in domestic carnivores in San Buenaventura, Ixiamas and Tumupasa, towns close to Madidi National Park, resulted in high exposures (greater than 90%) of the dog populations to canine distemper and parvovirus. Similarly, domestic cats had high levels of exposure to feline parvovirus, calcivirus and Toxoplasma gondii. The presence of these diseases in the area represents a risk to wild carnivores’ health and public health in the case of Toxoplasma.

In recent years, the WCS veterinary team has devoted major efforts to monitoring the health of wildlife species in the Tacana Indigenous Territory, in the Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and indigenous Territory and in Madidi National Park, in coordination with the Tacana Indigenous Peoples Council (CIPTA), the T’simane Mosetene Regional Council (CRTM), also with the General Directorate of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (DGBAP) and the National Service of Agricultural Health and Food Safety (SENASAG). Between 2007 and 2011, the presence of 91 pathogens (endoparasites, viral and bacterial pathogens) was identified in several wildlife species (giant armadillo, agouti, tapir, coati, white-lipped peccary, collared peccary, capybara, maned wolf, marsh deer, Bolivian red howler, Madidi titi monkey, yellow-spotted river turtle and spectacled caiman). The results suggest that some of these animals may be exposed to diseases caused by the identified viral and bacterial pathogens.

Moreover, since 2004, WCS worked with BIOTA in the annual monitoring of flamingos in the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve and in other high Andean wetlands, located in southern Bolivia. To date 238 flamingos were captured and sampled with a total of 147 serological samples and 112 cloacal swabs indicating that there were no cases of Newcastle disease or Avian Influenza; although other diseases were detected: Avian Infectious Anemia, Egg Drop Syndrome, Swollen Head Syndrome and Infectious Bronchitis. This work forms part of the Avian Influenza Surveillance Network in Wild Birds and is an ongoing activity in disease surveillance in wild birds by the DGBAP and SENASAG. Since 2010, WCS is implementing the PREDICT program, an international initiative to carry out the surveillance of pathogens with pandemic potential that use wildlife as hosts. The agreements between WCS and the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IBMB) of the UMSA allowed the implementation of a veterinary diagnosis laboratory, which will use molecular diagnostic technology (PCR) to diagnose 7 viral families. This laboratory is Bolivia’s first to perform diagnostics of wildlife diseases. In addition, WCS has a parasitological diagnostic laboratory and trained personnel for the detection of wildlife parasites. The results obtained in both laboratories are increasing the information in the national system of epidemiological surveillance database of SENASAG, forming the basis of the semester reports submitted to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Wild animals that are confiscated in the illegal wildlife trade, as well as animals that have been received in zoos and rescue centers, maintain close contact with domestic animals, wildlife and humans, with which they would rarely relate to in their natural environment. These contacts between species are favoring the emergence of various pathogens; such is the case of Pandemic Influenza (H1N1).WCS, in partnership with the General Directorate of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (DGBAP), and zoos and legally established wildlife refuges in the country, is working to monitor wildlife health in confiscated animals.

The cooperation agreement signed between WCS and the “La Senda Verde” wildlife refuge is strengthening the capacities of the refuge veterinarians to monitor the health status of animals that enter the refuge. Likewise, the agreement between WCS and the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IBMB) of the UMSA is monitoring diseases that may be relevant for public health and domestic livestock production, as is the case of salmonellosis.