Disease Investigations

Swan Sampling in Mongolia Photo
WCS field vets collect samples from a dead whooper swan in Mongolia to check the bird for avian influenza H5N1.
©William Karesh

Disease—whether driven by pathogens, pollutants, genetics, or dietary deficiencies—can threaten vulnerable wildlife populations as significantly as do overhunting and habitat destruction. Wildlife diseases may also affect humans, livestock, and the economy. Pinpointing a disease’s origin, how it develops, how it spreads, and how it can be stopped is essential to protecting wildlife and human communities.

On five continents, WCS-Global Health is conducting health monitoring and disease investigations. Their work is incredibly diverse, varying from health studies of gorillas in small pockets of remote jungle to migratory birds that travel across hemispheres. In the past few years, WCS health experts have been pivotal in proving that West Nile virus had spread into the U.S., investigating why thousands of penguins were washing ashore at the southern tip of South America, and examining why amphibians are declining all over the world.

WCS Projects

Bird Flu

WCS launched GAINS (the Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance)--the only global disease surveillance program that focuses on wildlife populations; all others focus primarily on diseases of humans and domestic livestock.

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever Virus

Throughout Ebola high-risk zones, our researchers assess great ape health and improve Ebola prevention awareness in remote communities.

West Nile Virus

In the summer of 1999, WCS pathologists were critical to unraveling the mystery surrounding West Nile virus. Their subsequent vaccination work has saved the lives of hundreds of birds within WCS parks as well as in zoos and aquariums throughout the country.

From the Newsroom

Mapping the Illegal Wildlife TradeFebruary 17, 2012

A new collaboration between WCS and Children's Hospital Boston uses media reports to help track wildlife trade and reduce its associated disease risks.

Health Experts Call for a New Kind of Airport SurveillanceJanuary 10, 2012

A study finds evidence that bushmeat (including these straw-colored fruit bats) illegally imported into the country by air can contain and spread pathogens from wildlife to humans, and establishes the importance of tracking diseases associated with the illegal wildlife trade at U.S. ports.

Russian and U.S. Vets Solve Mysterious Tiger DeathsSeptember 30, 2011

Health experts from WCS’s Bronx Zoo, Primorskya State Agricultural Academy, and Moscow Zoo uncover how distemper may be affecting Siberian tigers.

A Tiny Turtle in TroubleMay 10, 2011

Why are North America’s smallest turtles getting sick? By giving full health check-ups to the rare reptiles, WCS and partners aim to clear the fog hanging over bog turtles. It's a much-needed rescue mission for a species now considered endangered in New York and Massachusetts.

The Mystery of the Naked PenguinsApril 7, 2011

Featherless penguin chicks have been popping up on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in the last few years. WCS researchers and their partners are unraveling the clues to this strange disorder.

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