AVMA News

Wildlife veterinarians are natural one-health advocates as they work at the interface of human, animal, and environmental health. For insights into this line of work, AVMA News spoke with four wildlife veterinarians about their backgrounds and areas of expertise. This is the second article in our five-part series.

The contribution of veterinarians to wildlife health

December 05, 2022

Dr. Anne Justice-Allen worked at mixed animal practices across the Southwest for much of her career. Around the time that the former AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams were forming to assist with disaster response in the early 1990s, she became interested in disaster medicine and met people working with agriculture departments in that field.

She got her master’s degree and began work in disease management. She said: “I was really interested in the one-health field even before one health was a thing. I was interested in the spread of diseases from wildlife to people and to domestic animals and then back from domestic animals and people to wildlife.”

Dr. Anne Justice-Allen, Arizona’s state wildlife veterinarian, tube feeds a Mexican gray wolf born in captivity prior to placing the pup in a den with a wild litter. Placing captive-born pups with wild litters augments the wild population of the endangered subspecies in terms of numbers and genetics. (Courtesy of Dr. Justice-Allen)

When Dr. Justice-Allen was in veterinary school in the mid-’80s, the concept of a wildlife veterinarian was very new. The Wildlife Disease Association was formed in 1952, and the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians was formed in 1979.

Fast-forward to 2009 when Dr. Justice-Allen joined the Arizona Game and Fish Department as state wildlife veterinarian and as supervisor of the Wildlife Health Program. Her job is to inform wildlife managers and biologists about the health of wildlife populations in the state, how that status might affect those populations, and options for responding.

She does mortality investigations when the department get reports of wild animals dying. Her program does routine surveillance of wildlife health through hunter-harvested samples and samples obtained during translocation or studies of animals. She also performs risk analyses ahead of translocation of animals.

The species of greatest concern to the Arizona Game and Fish Department are animals hunted as game such as deer, elk, and bighorn sheep and endangered species ranging from black-footed ferrets to the Sonoran pronghorns and Mexican gray wolves. The wildlife program does a lot of work with migratory birds, partly in response to reports of birds dying.

Specific health issues are pneumonia in bighorn sheep, although Arizona hasn’t seen too much trouble, and rabbit hemorrhagic disease, which is now endemic in some areas of the state. The program also has been on the lookout for chronic wasting disease in cervids and highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Along the way, Dr. Justice-Allen got involved with the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians. The AAWV has many ongoing mission objectives, starting off with “to enhance the contribution of veterinary medicine to the health, conservation, and welfare of wildlife.”

Among its efforts, the AAWV is active in governmental advocacy and educating veterinary students. Another mission objective is to stress the importance of the one-health concept.

The AAWV meets annually, usually in conjunction with the Wildlife Disease Association. As of late October, the AAWV had 317 members.

“The field has grown and matured, and now we’re seeing young veterinarians who are graduating from veterinary school and going on to get advanced degrees like master’s degrees or PhDs in wildlife management,” Dr. Justice-Allen said. “They have a much stronger management background, and at the same time they have that veterinary education and knowledge of animal health and welfare.”

A version of this article appears in the January 2023 print issue of JAVMA.