Wildlife conservation is a broad term. Broken down its aim is to conserve the wild animals resident on this planet and maintain biodiversity within our ecosystem.

Veterinary surgeons are involved in wildlife conservation by providing knowledge and clinical expertise. Working together with veterinary nurses, ecologists, conservationists and wildlife experts, vets work as part of a larger team to conserve wildlife globally.

So what are vets’ main roles in wildlife conservation?

1) Disease risk analysis

A key part of all wildlife conservation projects is assessing what diseases pose a risk to wildlife. This can take many forms and changes depending on the aims of the conservation project. 

For example, if the project is looking at increasing numbers of a wildlife species in a habitat where they normally live, the vet’s role would be to analyse what diseases are present in that environment that may pose a threat to the species. They might also look at data from animals that have died before. Assessing what disease agents were responsible for their demise. 

The results of this analysis helps formulate a larger plan with the rest of the team to prevent the risk of those diseases to wildlife. For example, this might involve vaccinating the animals against specific at risk diseases if possible and safe to do so.

Other disease risk analyses take place when translocating animals from one area to another. These analyses are important to determine if the animals being moved will bring diseases that are dangerous to other animals resident in the area. It also involves assessing if animals in the new location have diseases that could harm the animals being moved. 

Again the results of these investigations are used to make plans to reduce the risk for all involved and maximise the chance of the conservation project being successful.

2) Zoonotic disease risk

As well as disease risk to wild animals, some diseases of wildlife can be transmitted to humans, these are known as zoonotic diseases. A vet can assess what diseases found in the risk analyses are zoonotic. Working with other professionals in the conservation team to make sure a plan is in place to minimise any risk to human health.

3) Preventative health care and research

After diseases have been identified as a potential risk to wildlife, it is important to look at ways to reduce that risk. A well-known method is vaccination. For some diseases vaccines are readily available, however often there is limited data on the use of these vaccines in wildlife species, so research is required to assess if these are safe and will prevent the disease in wild animals. 

Vets working in conservation play an important role in wildlife research and the results of these studies are vitally important for saving species in the wild. 

Other methods of preventative health care include parasite and vector control, for diseases which are spread by parasites. Again this is never as simple as it sounds and involves research and expertise to formulate a safe and effective plan.

4) Clinical assessment of wild animals

As well as playing a crucial role in disease analysis, vets are skilled in safely anaesthetising, assessing and treating wild animals. They have specific skills and knowledge of wildlife species and are able to use this knowledge to ensure wildlife can be treated safely and effectively in the field.

5) Training

Vets are fortunate to have a wealth of knowledge which can be helpful when working with wildlife species. A key part of a vet’s role in conservation projects is to share that knowledge and train individuals all over the world. So the same level of knowledge and training is available globally and international teams can collectively work together to conserve wildlife.

Its a team effort

Wildlife conservation is challenging. We live in a world where our wildlife is threatened more than ever. Vets cannot conserve wildlife on their own. Working alongside specialists from many different fields with expertise in ecology, behaviour, environment, human-wildlife interaction, parasitology, conservation and many other fields, they are able to form a small part of the big puzzle that keeps our wildlife alive. 

If you want to learn more about vets working in conservation, Wildlife Vets International is an international charity specialising in this field, read about their work here: https://www.wildlifevetsinternational.org/