Organizations Formalize Partnership to Support Project Beluga

Beluga Calf's Debut- Today the Press, Friday Her PublicOn June 10, 2014, John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and the Group for Research and education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) signed a memorandum of understanding establishing a collaborative bi-national relationship to promote the health and survival of beluga whales in the St. Lawrence Seaway. This threatened group of whales is the southernmost population of belugas in the world and is under tremendous pressures from numerous environmental and anthropogenic stresses. The memorandum of understanding enables the two organizations to work more closely together to share knowledge and expertise, utilize existing resources, collaborate on research and ultimately provide insight into the factors contributing to the decline of the population. “We are proud to partner with GREMM and their long-established scientific program. Collaborative relationships fuel the actions needed to help protect these marine mammals and the waters in which they live,” said Roger Germann, Shedd’s executive vice president. Here is the official announcement:

Asian Carp the target of new Ontario lab

Grass.Carp2webCanada has a new tool to battle the spread of an insatiable invasive species: an Asian carp research lab that’s the first of its kind in the country.

Researchers say the Burlington, Ont.-based lab at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters (CCIW) will be an integral part of the battle against a fish that threatens to decimate food sources for native species in North America. The facility was formally unveiled Monday.

“Right now, the Great Lakes are absolutely at risk,” said Becky Cudmore, the Asian carp program manager at the CCIW. “Canada as a whole is in danger, but the Great Lakes are at an imminent risk.”

Bighead and silver carp are largely considered to be the worst part of that risk, as they eat huge amounts of plankton, which is the foundation of aquatic food chains. They have infested much of the Mississippi River basin and are threatening to gain a foothold in the Great Lakes through rivers and canals. If that happens, species native to Canada could be wiped out.

Diane Finley, the minister of public works and government services, told reporters at a press conference Monday that Asian carp could have a devastating effect if left unchecked.

Read more about this issue here:

The uses of trail cameras

Trail cameras are an increasingly popular method of gaining information about the presence, population composition, activities, health and interactions of a variety of wildlife species.  As digital photographic technology has become both more sophisticated and less expensive, the use of trail cameras has become feasible, for individual users and for larger projects.

Typically, these cameras are securely mounted in an inconspicuous location that provides an unrestricted view of an area of interest.  The camera’s shutter is activated by motion and will thus take a photograph of any wild animal whose presence triggers it.  A variety of camera types are available, and some are capable of night-time photography as well.  As technology has improved, it has become possible for cameras to store more images and stay active in the field for longer periods of time.

The availability of this sort of technology has opened the way for some large and ambitious citizen-science project.  One of these is Snapshot Serengeti ( in which 225 cameras have been set up in Serengeti National Park, with the aim of capturing information on both the carnivores and herbivores that are present there.  This number of cameras produces a huge volume of images and the project uses volunteers from around the world to view and classify the images.

This project inspired a North American project funded by the Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin (  This project intends to purchase and distribute more than 3,000 trail cameras to be distributed around the state and will use a similar method of citizen science to classify and analyse the images produced.

These projects are massive undertakings, and trail cameras are more commonly used on a more modest scale, either by an individual landowner or scientist, looking for better information on a local scale.Kristin Bondo, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Guelph under the supervision of the CCWHC’s Ontario/Nunavut Regional Director, Dr. Claire Jardine, is conducting a field study to determine the role of raccoons and skunks in maintaining and disseminating antimicrobial resistant enteric bacteria (e.g. Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter) on swine farms and conservation areas in southern Ontario.  Antimicrobial resistance is a threat to global health, and the role of wildlife in the epidemiology of antimicrobial resistance is unknown.

As part of Kristin’s project, trail cameras were set up near many of her traps, where they document the presence, activities and sometimes the interactions of various animals that inhabit the area.  The following photos were obtained through this project. The principal species observed, of course, is the raccoon:


The camera also provides information on other species of wildlife that are present, some of whom also explore the traps.





Not all of the visitors are wild animals.  Photos of this sort provide evidence of how contact between wild and domestic animals may occur, sometimes with the potential for transmission of disease.


Trail cameras have also become popular with hunters, who use them to monitor for the presence of game species in their area.  Sometimes, the images obtained show evidence of disease, and the photos are sent to a wildlife agency or the CCWHC for assessment of the condition.



As this technology becomes more affordable and widely available, the potential exists to amass a great deal of information on the presence, habits and interactions of wildlife species.  However, some greater structure and purpose will also be necessary in order to make the resulting information scientifically valid and useable.

There’s more to urban rats than compost

rat.project.street.shot_1On June 18th , Canada’s news media were voicing grave concerns about rats in Vancouver.  The CBC, the National Post, the Huffington Post and many linkers and commentators were drawing lines between community gardens and compost and rats and threatened day care facilities. Global TV invited Dr. Chelsea Himsworth, director of the Vancouver Rat Project and coordinator in BC for the CWHC, to put this particular issue involving urban rats into a broader perspective. Here is that interview.

What Does the Bat Say?

A group of environmentally-aware students from the Inspire Academy in Muncie, Indiana, have put together a very imaginative and entertaining parody video (based on the viral sensation “What does the fox say”). the video is aimed at raising awareness about the challenges facing the Indiana Bat; yet another bat species facing serious population problems as a result of the devastating Bat White Nose Syndrome spreading though Canada and the United States.

The students researched various topics related to the Indiana Bat such as, Threats/Dangers, Physical Adaptations, Winter Behavior, Food, and others.  They first used their knowledge gained through their research to write a song parody to the tune of a popular dance song in order to educate people about the Indiana Bat and conservation efforts surrounding it.  They then auditioned, rehearsed, and finally recorded their song at Indiana Public Radio studios.  The production team at IPR professionally mixed the song after getting feedback from students on various initial mixes.  The students then gave their all in filming the music video that goes along with the song.  They came up with ideas and executed a professional videoing process.  The footage was then edited from 11+ hours into a museum quality 3+ minute music video final product.

Inspire Academy – A School of Inquiry (IASI) exists to empower a diverse body of students with an internationally competitive education by fostering students’ natural inclination toward curiosity, discovery, and adventure. We are committed to Expeditionary Learning – an inquiry-based, interdisciplinary approach with an emphasis on arts integration, collaborative learning and character development.  Our curriculum is organized around in-depth studies called Learning Expeditions and is shaped by The Ten Design Principles of Expeditionary Learning. Learning Expeditions are real-world investigations that give students the opportunity to ask questions, discover answers and create real-time solutions for real people.  Each subject – from math and science to reading and social studies – is incorporated into an expedition, which gives students an immediate purpose for learning.

Babesia odocoilei recently detected in Canada

elk  -  hg (1 of 1)In July of 2012 Babesia odocoilei was determined to be the cause of death of a game ranched elk in central Saskatchewan. Another 10 bull elk on the farm were suspected of having died of this parasite within the previous few weeks but unfortunately autopsies were not performed to confirm the diagnosis. This was the first report of Babesia odocoilei in Canada. Babesia odocoilei is a single-celled parasite that infects and destroys red blood cells causing infected animals to become anemic, lethargic and to lose weight. The parasite is transmitted by ticks and to date the only species known to be a competent vector for this parasite is Ixodes scapularis, the blacklegged or deer tick, although Dermacentor spp. have been implicated in some cases. Ixodes scapularis is not endemic to Saskatchewan.

Babesia odocoilei is endemic in white-tailed deer in the southern and eastern United States with prevalence exceeding 50% in some areas. Infections have also been reported in the north-central and north-eastern US. The parasite natural infects other cervid and bovid species and these infections are often fatal in elk, reindeer and caribou.

To investigate this novel disease occurrence further, the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC), Western and Northern Region, along with other researchers at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) initiated a study to assess the prevalence of infection in farmed and wild cervids in Saskatchewan, both prospectively, using ongoing submissions to our diagnostic lab, and retrospectively, using formalin fixed paraffin embedded tissues archived from diagnostic cases dating back to 1970. We first validated techniques and primers for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test specific for B. odocoilei and have begun the process of testing spleens from these cases. Although testing and analysis is not complete we have so far confirmed B. odocoilei infection in one other game farmed elk and in a wild white-tailed deer in the province (see map). Preliminary results have detected other positive cases but we are doing additional testing to confirm the results.

elk  -  hgThis work has several important outcomes. First it has allowed us to develop PCR diagnostic tools to identify a disease agent which would not normally be detected during autopsy of an animal; anemia and weight loss would be observed, but B. odocoilei can only be detected with blood smears or by using PCR. These tests are not normally undertaken, especially if the disease is not thought to occur in the area. Secondly, we have determined this parasite occurs sporadically in the province but to date we have not identified any endemic foci. Since to our knowledge B. odocoilei can only be transmitted by Ixodes scapularis, a tick not native to Saskatchewan, it raises the question of how these animals are becoming infected. It is likely that B. odocoilei infected I. scapularis ticks are being transported to Saskatchewan on migratory birds. Previously researchers have shown that between 0.35 and 2.2 % of migratory birds carry these ticks, which translates to between 50 million to 175 million Ixodes scapularis ticks being dispersed across Canada each spring by migratory birds. The sporadic occurrence of B. odocoilei infections in Saskatchewan cervids has interesting parallels to the sporadic occurrence of Lyme disease in the province, another disease that requires Ixodes scapularis for transmission. In this latter case the ticks present on migratory birds are infected with Borrellia burgdorferi , the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease.

Finally, these cases are another example of the value of passive or scanning surveillance in detecting new disease occurrences and the value of access to affordable veterinary diagnostic services. This discovery began with a veterinarian visiting a farm to investigate unexplained mortality and illness in some elk. A blood sample collected from a sick animal was submitted to Prairie Diagnostic Services, the domestic animal diagnostic laboratory at the WCVM, and the diagnosis was made by a clinical pathologist who recognized the parasites on a blood smear. As collaborators in disease surveillance, the CWHC was able to investigate this further by testing additional submissions from wild and domestic cervids which has allowed us to make an assessment of the prevalence and significance of this parasite. Ongoing submissions of wild and domestic animals for autopsy, along with archived samples, were critical to this step. With a new awareness of this disease, and with newly developed tools for diagnosis, we can monitor for changes in prevalence and geographic distribution of B. odocoilei infections, and by extension I. scapularis. These changes are projected to occur as a result of climate change and predicted warming of the Canadian prairies.


CWHC Announces New Executive Director

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) has selected Dr. Craig Stephen, a wildlife health specialist and a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), as its new executive director.

craig_stephenStephen will assume his new role on July 1, he will replace the CWHC’s current executive director and co-founder, Dr. Frederick A. (Ted) Leighton, who is stepping down this summer.

Stephen looks forward to working with the CWHC, particularly because of its reputation for developing workable solutions to tough problems by collaborating with universities and governments as well as the private sector.

“It is a critical time for wildlife health in Canada and globally. New diseases, habitat loss, pollution and other pressures are causing tremendous challenges for wildlife,” said Stephen. “I am excited to be part of a team with the skills and passion to confront these challenges and work with the Canadian wildlife community to find solutions.”

Read the full press release here:

Rabies in a Raccoon in New Brunswick

Procyon_lotor_(Common_raccoon)On June 2nd of this year, a raccoon from St. Stephen, New Brunswick, tested positive for the raccoon variant of rabies.  The raccoon rabies variant was last detected in New Brunswick in May 2002, in this same general geographic area. Prior to this June 2014 occurrence in a raccoon, the last case of rabies in this province was detected in Fredericton in November 2013 in a Big Brown Bat (in this case, the virus was a bat variant of rabies virus and not the raccoon variant).

In this recent raccoon case, a family in St. Stephen had returned home on the evening of Thursday May 29, 2014, to find their two dogs excitedly circling around something in the yard.  The object of attention was a raccoon, which evidently was moving abnormally slowly and was circling.  The raccoon was killed and buried. Afterward, the dogs shared popsicles with the family’s two young children.  It was not known if the dogs had had contact with the raccoon, but if they had been bitten, it is likely that they would have licked any wounds they incurred and so could have been exposed to the raccoon’s saliva.  The raccoon was dug up and its brain was extracted by the New Brunswick Provincial Veterinary Laboratory and sent to the CFIA’s Rabies Laboratory in Ottawa for testing. Test results were completed on June 2nd and variant typing was completed on June 3rd.

Post-exposure treatment has been started on the two children.  Both dogs had been vaccinated previously against rabies, although one dog was overdue for revaccination.  Both dogs were given booster vaccinations for rabies and have been put under quarantine.  The family also has an indoor-outdoor cat which had never been vaccinated against rabies.  The cat was vaccinated and also is being quarantined.  Four of the immediate neighbours also have dogs, and there is a school nearby.

In 2001, the New Brunswick government launched a successful trap-vaccinate-release program to control the raccoon variant of rabies, targeting wild raccoons, skunks, foxes and feral cats (defined as cats with no collars or identification).  No decision has yet been made on a general response to this newly-detected rabid raccoon, apart from the immediate public and human health actions described above.  The New Brunswick government has not yet established a provincial protocol for responses to suspected cases of animal rabies to replace protocol previously followed by the CFIA, which terminated its local responses to potential rabies cases as of 1 April 2014.

Reported by Dr. Jim Goltz, New Brunswick Provincial Veterinary Laboratory, Fredericton, NB

Industry volunteers to protect critical wildlife habitat

Marine reefs are suffer under the pressures of climate change and pollution. But in British Columbia, reefs have been given some good news. B.C.’s commercial spot prawn fishermen have agreed to voluntarily avoid nine prehistoric glass-sponge reefs. These reefs provide a complex and unique habitat for fish and other marine life. Thought to have gone extinct these fragile reefs are found in Hecate Strait and the Southern Strait of Georgia and provide vital habitat to a wide range of marine animals including endangered rockfish. But they are very sensitive to disturbances. As their name implies, these glass sponges are particularly susceptible to the impacts of crab and prawn traps or sport fishing gear trolled along the ocean bottom.

Glass Sponge (Staurocalyptus)Glass sponges are found in ‘shallow water’ (less than 500 m) in only four locations world wide: Antarctica, Southern New Zealand, some caves in the Mediterranean, and the fjords and continental shelf of the Pacific Coast of North America. Glass sponges are unusual animals because their skeleton is of nearly pure glass (hydrated silica dioxide). Sponges in this group settle on the skeletons of previous generations and over time, form giant sponge reefs, sometimes several stories high.

Seventy-five percent of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by local and global pressures. The local threats from fishing, coastal development, and pollution combine with the global threats of warming waters and ocean acidification to threaten these species and the critical wildlife habitat they create. It has been projected that the percent of threatened reefs will increase to more than 90% by 2030 and to nearly all reefs by 2050. The voluntary actions taken by the prawn fishing industry is a positive step to reversing these trends.

For more information see:

First Report Of A Tapeworm, Taenia Arctos In North American Bears

450px-Medved_mzooTapeworms of the Genus Taenia (Class: Cestoda) are endoparasites that reside in the gastrointestinal tract of a final host from where they shed hundreds and thousands of eggs in the feces. Environment that is contaminated with eggs is the source of infection for the intermediate host in which the larval stages develop. The site of larval development in the intermediate host varies (muscle/brain/abdominal cavity, etc.) depending on the species of Taenia. To complete their life-cycle, larval stages in the intermediate host must be eaten by the final host. In general, Taenia infection is well tolerated by the final host. However, in the intermediate host, clinical signs depend on the organ infected.

In North America, the larval stages of Taenia in the muscle of cervids (caribou and moose) were considered as that of Taenia krabbei, a parasite whose final hosts are wolves, bear and lynx. With the recent discovery of T. in Fennoscandia [Final host: Finnish brown bears; Intermediate host: Finnish Eurasian elk (Alces alces)], there is a strong indication of ‘hidden’ diversity of Taenia spp. that use wild carnivore-wild ungulate system for their life-cycle. More recently, molecular studies confirmed the occurrence of larval forms of T. arctos in Alaskan moose (Alces americanus). However, the final hosts for T. arctos in North America are not known.

As a part of MSc thesis on helminths of bears in western Canada, Stefano Catalano (Supervised by Padraig Duignan and Mani Lejeune of the CWHC Alberta node) collected Taenia specimens from the intestine of a grizzly and a black bear from Alberta and were able to confirm their identity as T. arctos through genetic analysis. This is the first report of the final hosts for T. arctos in North America ( Since the time this article was published, T. arctos from three more black bears (two from Alberta, one from British Columbia) were collected and confirmed. These findings indicate geographic range of T. arctos greater than that was known previously and also suggest potential misidentification of Taenia spp. in bears and moose.