Two international animal health groups are calling on foreign aid organizations to recognize animal health sciences as essential to the design and implementation of livestock and wildlife-based projects in developing countries for the purpose of preventing disease transmission.
The Wildlife Disease Association and the Society for Tropical Veterinary Medicine issued a resolution following a joint meeting at the Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa, July 22-27 (see full text).
The summit, attended by members from more than 30 countries working on livestock and wildlife diseases, marks the first time the two groups have met, underscoring the significance of the Pilanesberg Resolution, said Dr. Steve Osofsky, director of the World Wildlife Fund's Species Conservation Program and a principal contributor to the resolution.
The resolution was sent in September to approximately 30 international donor organizations, such as the United Nations Development Program, World Bank, and U.S. Agency for International Development.
No specific event was the catalyst for the resolution. But the two animal health groups believe it was necessary because the donor community too often undertakes livestock or wildlife projects with little consideration for how the one might affect the other.
Identified in the Pilanesberg Resolution are areas where donor organizations can capitalize on the expertise of veterinarians and animal scientists to ensure the success of animal-related projects in developing countries. These projects typically pertain to research, disease prevention, food security, conservation, game ranching, and ecotourism.
Historically, such initiatives have not always accounted for complex disease issues, however. In addition, donor organizations rarely possess adequate internal knowledge and experience with wild and domestic animal diseases and their causes.
Projects are sometimes funded that address disease problems in a specific species without evaluating how other species might be affected, explained Dr. Bob Bokma, president of the Society for Tropical Veterinary Medicine. "The intent of the resolution was to come to grips with that" and encourage donors to take a broader approach, said Dr. Bokma, who is also regional coordinator for the Americas with the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
The resolution reminds donor organizations that projects affecting wildlife and livestock might alter fundamental relationships between animal hosts and potential pathogens and parasites. For instance, simply transporting animals from one part of a country to another might speed the transmission of a disease or parasite, affecting not only animals but also humans.
There are other important ecologic considerations, with disease control measures in the agriculture sector having ramifications for wildlife that have not always been anticipated. Donor organizations should, therefore, consider a number of factors during the planning stages, including biodiversity conservation and environmental impact assessments that incorporate animal health issues.
The resolution states that projects must foster integrative approaches to biodiversity conservation, livestock production, food safety, and human health. To ensure a project's sustainability, donor organizations must build relationships with local animal health experts, who are to be consulted at the planning, implementation, and monitoring stages.
"The intent was to draw attention to the fact that we've got to work together on animal health issues from both sides of the fence, literally and figuratively," Dr. Osofsky said. "Wildlife health and livestock health are not separate entities. Whether you're working in natural resource management or the agriculture sector, there's got to be good information flow and collaboration at that interface."
The resolution does not suggest anything novel, according to Dr. Paul Barrows, president of the Wildlife Disease Association and a member of the AVMA Committee on Environmental Issues. But it reminds the international donor community about the delicate symbiotic relationship among livestock, wild animals, and humans, and that donors must be careful not to unwittingly tip the balance.
"The resolution," Dr. Barrows said, "is really directed at reminding and encouraging those who may be expending funds to include these kinds of considerations in their planning process."
Resolution by the Wildlife Disease Association and the Society for Tropical Veterinary Medicine calling for international donor community recognition of animal health sciences as critical for the design and management of sustainable wildlife and/or livestock-based programs.
Whereas, contact and resource competition between wildlife and livestock continuously expand as more and more land comes under some form of human use;
whereas, wild and domestic animals have many diseases in common and both groups can and do play different roles in disease epidemiology, and recognizing that these interrelationships can have significant implications for disease prevention or control schemes;
whereas, livestock-based and wildlife-based activities are undertaken separately as well as jointly as primary modes of sustenance, economic betterment and support of rural livelihoods, with the sustainability thereof inextricably linked to ecologically appropriate land-use choices;
whereas, the sustainable management of livestock as well as the conservation of wildlife require ground-level stewardship, including disease surveillance, by those communities closest to and most dependent on these resources;
whereas, numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations worldwide provide financial resources, incentives, leadership, and advice targeted at boosting productivity and sustainability of the livestock and/or natural resource management sectors without always recognizing concomitant disease implications, which can be significant and complex;
whereas, limited funding streams for wildlife and/or livestock initiatives require prudent use;
whereas, donor organizations seldom possess sufficient internal expertise regarding the myriad disease issues implicit in ensuring the success of wildlife and/or livestock-based programs; and
whereas, the Wildlife Disease Association and the Society for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, along with other local, national, and international organizations, represent professionals who possess unique skills, knowledge, and experience with wild and domestic animal diseases and their underlying causes, ecological relationships, and economic implications.
Now, therefore, be it resolved that, the Wildlife Disease Association and the Society for Tropical Veterinary Medicine urge those organizations contemplating the funding and implementation of programs involving wildlife or livestock resources to:
- encourage projects that foster integrative approaches to livestock production, food security, human health, economic growth, democracy and governance, biodiversity conservation, and natural resource management in order to build upon synergies among these sectors while precluding conflicting policies and/or negative impacts on either livestock or wildlife health;
- formalize steps in their project design, environmental impact assessment, and implementation processes which address wildlife, livestock, and rangeland health issues and their implications for sustainability and thus success, recognizing that these projects may alter fundamental relationships between animal hosts and potential pathogens and parasites;
- when contemplating projects involving domestic and/or wild animals, establish relationships with appropriate wildlife and domestic animal health-oriented organizations and recognized local, national, regional, and international experts, thereby identifying an appropriate pool of professionals who can assist in ensuring the inclusion of timely, science-based advice in planning, implementation, and monitoring processes; and
- put a premium on local human capacity-building to address the long-term technical needs of development activities that require expertise in domestic animal health and wildlife health by building adequate support into project design and implementation so as to engage local expertise and to foster capacity-building at professional as well as community levels as a first-tier priority within and beyond the life-spans of such programs.