Wildlife & Disease
Dr. Christine Casey
Wildlife Veterinarian, KDFWR
Wildlife diseases were once viewed by wildlife managers as a normal process and limited interventions were implemented to manage diseases among wild animals. However, in the past several decades noticeable shifts in the dynamics of common diseases and the discovery of newly emerging diseases have caused managers to rethink this approach. These changes in the epidemiology of wildlife diseases are the result of multiple factors and complex interactions between the host, pathogen, and environment. However, one of the most significant changes and contributing factors is human activitiy that alters the landscape.
Human activities lead to increased interactions between humans, domestic animals, and wildlife which have dramatically altered natural disease dynamics. For example, there is an extensive list of diseases that have been introduced to new places around the world due to the movement of humans, animals, and goods. One example is the introduction of white nose syndrome in the United States which had devastating impacts on native bat populations. On the other side of the spectrum, the United States has served as a source for the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurologic disease of deer, to foreign countries. The lesson being, extreme caution should be used when moving people and animals around to minimize the risk of unintentionally introducing any pathogens they may be harboring. For this very reason the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has restricted the movement of various species (both carcasses and live animals) to limit the spread of rabies, chronic wasting disease (CWD), and rabbit hemorrhagic disease to name a few. These movement restrictions are more important than ever, due to the recent detection of CWD less than 10 miles from our border in Tennessee.
Minimizing disease risk on the landscape starts at the local level where an individual can have the most impact. A few activities landowners in Kentucky may practice to minimize this disease risk are:
• Reduce activities like baiting and feeding, which can artificially increase animal densities
• Limit access of wildlife to food sources, such as pet food or seed
• Limit interactions between domestic animals and wildlife
• Protect yourself and pets from insects such as ticks and mosquitoes
• Reduce insect habitat immediately around your home by maintaining yards and removing leaf litter and debris
If you observe sick or dead wildlife, contact your local biologist and have a conversation about whether further investigation is warranted. Naturally, some level of disease is to be expected; however, being vigilant and notifying authorities regarding abnormal behavior or die-offs in wildlife is important and contributes greatly to disease surveillance efforts. Active public participation and support is vital for protecting this valuable public resource. Any steps you, as a private landowner, are willing to take to help us work toward this goal is greatly appreciated. For more information on wildlife diseases please visit our website at fw.ky.gov/disease.