Expecting the unexpected: how Canada is helping to prevent the next disease outbreak

Craig Stephen, executive director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, and Zee Leung of the International Development Research Centre recently co-authored an op-ed in response to the current Ebola outbreak. The article argues for investment directed at the basic drivers of emergence and resilience as a way to prepare for the inevitable emergence of a new disease problem. 

“To protect ourselves against the next outbreak looming on the horizon, not only do we need emergency responses that work closely with communities, we also need to invest in healthy ecosystems and strong communities: clean and safe environments; nutritious and accessible sources of food; health education; basic sanitation; effective healthcare systems; and strong infection control.”

Read the full article here:


Quebec Rabies Surveillance Report

Quebec is conducting an active surveillance program for rabies, particularly the raccoon strain that is present across the border in the United States. Here is an update on this program as of August 22, 2014. The map shows the locations where animals tested for rabies were found as well as cases in the USA up to July 21, 2014. As you will see in the chart, the collection of specimens for testing in 2014 so far has been very similar to 2013.

No cases of raccoon rabies have been detected in Quebec since 2009.

Locations of animals collected for surveillance of raccoon rabies in Quebec and across the border in the United States in 2014. Animals that tested negative are shown in green; results pending are shown in yellow; animals not tested are shown in blue.

Locations of animals collected for surveillance of raccoon rabies in Quebec and across the border in the United States in 2014. Animals that tested negative are shown in green; results pending are shown in yellow; animals not tested are shown in blue.

Number of citizen reports and animals collected for surveillance of raccoon rabies - comparison by week for 2013 and 2014

Number of citizen reports and animals collected for surveillance of raccoon rabies – comparison by week for 2013 and 2014



Human-Wildlife Conflict in Urban Environments

urban-raccoon-insertLast week, an episode of CBC Radio’s “The Current” featured the issue of urban wildlife. This topic is full of controversy, as many people enjoy living closely with wildlife, while others complain of animals destroying their gardens and shrubs and becoming too bold and aggressive in their expectation for food.

Regardless of which stance they choose to take on the issue, homeowners should consider the possible consequences before feeding wildlife in their backyards. Feeding wildlife can have unintended effects such as increased disease spread within animal populations, and individuals becoming overly habituated to the presence of humans. In some cases, there are also risks of disease spread from wild populations to humans or domestic animals.

The radio show asked listeners to call in with their stories of living with urban wildlife, and also featured a debate on the issue of whether or not to carry out a planned deer cull in an area where urban deer have become a problem.

Listen to the episode here:


Photo Gallery: Sri Lankan Elephants

Sri Lanka Tusker

In celebration of World Elephant Day (August 12, 2014), we’re sharing our collection of elephant photos taken during former CWHC director, Ted Leighton’s travels to Sri Lanka as part of a partnership between the CWHC and the Sri Lanka Wildlife Health Centre (SLWHC). The SLWHC was developed in 2011 in a plan to improve Sri Lanka’s capacity for wildlife health management. The partnership between SLWHC and CWHC was officially renewed in March, 2013. The two organizations collaborate in research and training with the goal of developing a national program for wildlife health in Sri Lanka and providing people with the training to operate the program.

Some of these photos were taken at the Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe National Park, where orphaned elephants are raised, trained and re-introduced to the wild, and the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala where many elephants reside after being salvaged from injuries in the wild.

See more photos and read about the collaboration here:






Photos by Ted Leighton, Nilmini Jayasena and Vijitha Perera

21 - wild elephants red from mud bath Udawalawe

03 - Coming back from the river Pinnawala 04 - Kitul wood for elephant food Pinnawala 20120506 14 - Elephant eating Palu tree with yellow fruit 13 - Elephants everywhere 5000 in Sri Lanka 06 - Land mine injury Pinnawala 20120506 07 - Milk for baby elephants Elephant Transit Home 05 - Ancient male blind from gunshots Pinnawala

CWHC’s new director committed to wildlife health

stephen-craig-wt-200x171An article in WCVM Today – the newsletter of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, talks about Craig Stephen, the new executive director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC), and his commitment to wildlife health.

Read the full article here:


Fin whale in Canso Causeway

Fin_whale-Canso_Causeway-3July2014On July 3, 2014, a dead, 17 m, juvenile fin whale drifted from the west side onto the Canso Causeway, between Cape Breton Island and mainland Nova Scotia. The causeway’s gates were opened to allow the whale to drift through, but on July 5 it was blown onshore on the east side of the causeway by post-tropical storm Arthur.

It is always a challenge, logistically and financially, to dispose properly of such a large carcass, let alone to perform a necropsy to try to determine the cause of death. Depending on the location and circumstances, different Departments (federal, provincial, municipal) may inherit the responsibility to dispose of the carcass, and special arrangements (assembling a team of prosectors, securing access to heavy equipment) need to be made if there is agreement to do a necropsy.

In the end, after having undergone substantial decomposition, the carcass was towed for 25 km to a burial site, and on July 12, thanks to the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) of Nova Scotia, and with the cooperation of Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a complete necropsy was performed, involving 10 volunteers and a heavy equipment operator. There was no evidence that this whale had become entangled in fishing gear, and the complete absence of traumatic injuries such as broken bones ruled out the possibility of a ship strike. However, there was some suggestion, based on the blubber thickness of this animal, that it was in poor body condition and that it may have died from emaciation/starvation.

Trudy the badger: an unexpected guest at a BC university

Badger_Karl_LarsenThompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia had a few welcome guests this past spring: A female jeffersonii badger (Taxidea taxus jeffersonii) made her den in an embankment on campus and gave birth to a litter of kits. Karl Larsen, a professor at the university who has studied badgers for years, had a view of the den across from his office window.

“I could actually see her burrow from my window before the vegetation leafed up,” Larsen recalls. “She gave birth there and kept the kits in that burrow for the first few weeks,” he says. “Based on sightings, she was probably going up above the Facilities warehouse to forage.”

Badger_family_Karl_LarsenHe and his research assistant set up a trail camera near the den to record images and video of the badger family during their stay. Trudy (as she became known) and her kits stayed in the den for a few weeks before moving on to a different site. Their current location is unknown but later reports of a badger living under the deck of a nearby home led to the identification of one of Trudy’s sons.

The jeffersonii badger, a subspecies of American badger (Taxidea taxus) occurring only in BC, is listed as endangered in Canada. The population in the province, thought to be around 350 individuals, faces pressures from habitat loss and vehicle collision deaths. Larsen stated that he hopes these badger sightings suggest that the numbers are recovering, rather than reflecting further loss of natural habitat.

Read the full story with pictures and video here:


Bat White-nose Syndrome Confirmed in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Photo: Sarah Rydgren www.cwf-fcf.org

Photo: Sarah Rydgren www.cwf-fcf.org

Unfortunately, the last refuge for Nova Scotian bats from the devastating fungal disease white-nose syndrome (WNS) was the site of confirmed cases of the disease in little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) this past surveillance season.

In Inverness County, Cape Breton, NS, ten little brown bats - six females and four males – were found dead on the landscape at eight different geographical locations. Three bats were collected in December 2013; one in January 2014; two in February 2014; three in March 2014; and one in April 2014.  All of the bats were submitted for testing on April 24, 2014, and laboratory testing confirmed WNS as the cause of death for all of them.

wnsmapIn Cape Breton County, Cape Breton, NS, one male little brown bat was found dead on the landscape in March 2014 and was submitted for testing on April 9, 2014.  Laboratory testing confirmed WNS as the cause of death for this individual.

With Cape Breton falling to WNS as well as recent confirmation of the disease in Gaspé, Québec, there is now a real fear that WNS will emerge on the Island of Newfoundland, the last refuge from the disease for bats in Atlantic Canada. As a result, Newfoundland and Labrador will be closely monitored for any signs of WNS in subsequent surveillance seasons.

Although this is sad news for Cape Breton, thanks to the website www.batconservation.ca, where members of the public can report bat sightings, researchers have discovered several previously-unknown bat colonies on the island. This announcement was released just days before the confirmation of cases of WNS on Cape Breton, but it still comes as hopeful news that there may be small pockets of unaffected bats in some areas of Nova Scotia.

Read more on this story here: