WHERE THE (sick) WILD THINGS ARE: Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER)

How are you feeling today?


Glad to hear it!

How is the wildlife in your area feeling?

The U.S.Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center needs to know, and they have created two new programs to find out.

..The carcass of a red-winged blackbird from Beebe, AR is being examined by USGS National Wildlife Health Center wildlife pathologist.

“Avian influenza, SARS, West Nile virus, and rabies are just a few of the rogues’ gallery of human diseases in which wildlife play a role.  Seventy-five percent of recent emerging infectious diseases in humans began as animal infections, and most of these have involved wildlife,” explains USGS scientist Joshua Dein.

Getting this info into the right hands fast can lead to the detection and containment of wildlife disease outbreaks that may pose a health risk to people, livestock and stressed ecosystems.  These new tools can help the public report sick or dead wild animals.  They are examples of “citizen science,” which capitalizes on the public’s ability to help record and map natural phenomena, providing timely information to researchers.

1.      WHER

Researchers in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Madison created  WHER so that people around the world can easily share information about possible health threats to wildlife and humans.

The Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER) is a new website that enables anyone with an Internet connection to report sightings of sick or dead wildlife.

2.      Outbreaks Near Me

HealthMap.org has enhanced its mobile phone application “Outbreaks Near Me” to accept and relay wildlife health reports to the WHER site. (The same application also accepts reports of human illness.)

Both the WHER and “Outbreaks Near Me” are designed to advance One Health, a worldwide initiative to expand interdisciplinary collaborations and communications in all aspects of health care for humans, animals, and the environment.

..Uncle Sam wants you to joing the Wildlife Observation Army!

“These tools are the first with the capacity to accept wildlife health reports from anywhere on earth and deliver wildlife disease information to the wildlife and medical communities,” said Lewis Gilbert, associate director of the Nelson Institute .  “We hope that they will help the public act as an army of observers looking for signs of new or emerging diseases at both the national and international level.”

On my land, the issue that scares me the most is Chronic Wasting Disease in the deer herd.   That’s what I’ll be looking out for.  The Driftless Area in southwestern Wisconsin has the dubious honor of being one of the national hot spots, but accurate information is hard for researchers to get.

The disease was originally described in captive animals 35 years ago in Colorado who were fed supplements made of ground-up meat product to increase the side of their antlers.  Contaminated animals were sold to other deer confinement operations  and  now CWD has been reported in free-ranging deer in South Dakota, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Illinois, and Utah.   Officials especially want to hear about  CWD in the free-ranging white-tailed deer herd east of the Mississippi River.

..This deer let me get way too close to snap this shot. I had to wonder -- is it CWD?

Dein emphasizes that we should not see wildlife as a threat to human health.  “A more accurate vision is that we all share risks from these disease threats,” he says. “These new tools can help researchers use wildlife as sentinels to alert us to diseases in the environment.”

Dein points out that toxic contamination of soil, air and water is often first recognized by reports of dead fish and wildlife and that animals also can serve as models of the progression of an emerging disease in people and how a new disease might spread in human populations.

To make this work, WHER is going to need high participation rates.  So let’s all keep our eyes open when we are outside working and playing.  And if you see a sick animal, don’t touch it – just report it.

Have you seen any wildlife that didn’t seem tip top?

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