Wildlife Conservation Society operates a unique wildlife health program that has a global focus on existing and emerging disease threats to wildlife and human health. The program looks at everything from disease issues facing big cats and great apes to wildlife-disease interactions and emerging zoonotic diseases, of which the COVID-19 virus is just one example.
The WCS program has provided valuable context for the current COVID-19 pandemic and why these sorts of events could become more common as human-wildlife interactions increase due to growing human development pressures on wild habitats. For example, even in Canada, the increased fragmentation of forest areas around urban areas is leading to an increase in deer and mice populations that can be vectors for Lyme disease. This is why WCS has been a leader in promoting the One Health movement that calls for greater attention to be paid to the links between the health of the natural world and human health.
WCS Canada is also focusing on a major health threat to western bats. White-nose syndrome (WNS) has killed millions of bats in eastern North America and the fungus that causes the disease is steadily spreading west. Our bat team is preparing for the inevitable arrival of WNS in western Canada with a multi-pronged strategy aimed at helping bat populations survive and recover:
- Assessing which of the 18 species of bats in British Columbia and Alberta (the most in Canada) are most vulnerable to WNS by studying their physiology and habitat use.
- Improving our understanding of where these species are so that we can better monitor populations and assess health.
- Co-developing the North American Bat Monitoring (NaBAT) program to improve assessments of bat population status and trends. We now have more than 80 NaBAT sites in BC and Alberta.
- Working with cavers through the BatCaver.org program to reduce the risk of WNS spread and to enhance monitoring of bats in hard-to-reach underground location.
- Working with community members through the Alberta Community Bats Program to deploy artificial roosts like bat houses, monitor bats and to increase appreciation of our only flying mammal.
- Co-developing a preventative treatment based on natural soil microbes to increase bats resistance to WNS. We are now in the final stages of testing this probiotic and finding ways to deploy it, particularly at bat houses and other artificial roost sites.