Expanding Veterinary Capacity for 'One Health'

Val Beasley, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine

Since its inception in 1991, the Envirovet Summer Institute has worked to create a global force of scientists with the perspectives and expertise needed to negotiate improvements in wildlife, domestic animal, human, ecosystem, and economic health.  Headquartered at the University of Illinois, Envirovet is jointly assembled with the University of California-Davis and Sokoine University of Agriculture. 

Envirovet is very much a “one health” endeavor: our outlook recognizes the interdependence of human/public health, domestic animal health, and wildlife/ecosystem health. In a world where disease and loss of biodiversity are continual threats, and where agriculture, forestry, mining, urban development, and other forms of human enterprise negatively impact natural areas, our program asserts that societies can and must be constructively engaged to bring about positive change.

We provide the highly intensive Summer Institute to educate, inform, engage and inspire veterinarians of all backgrounds and nationalities to apply the prioritized, practical, and solution-oriented perspectives of medicine to ecosystem health challenges.

In Ruaha National Park, Envirovet participants learned conservation strategies and participated in darting, capture, and health surveillance of giraffes. This large bull giraffe exhibits signs of a poorly understood skin disorder on its left front leg. Dr. Alex Epaphras Muse, in the foreground, is a park veterinarian and recent Envirovet graduate.

Photos courtesy Val Beasley

Animals such as these highly endangered Zanzibar red colobus monkeys fuel ecotourism. Envirovet participants engaged with tourists, national park guides, and scientists to explore ways to reduce risks of disease transfer between humans and primates.

What does “highly intensive” mean?  In 2010, during the seven-week course from June 19 to August 10 participants put in 60 to 80 contact hours per week, with a total of two days off. The first part of the institute is spent on terrestrial and aquatic issues in the southeastern United States at White Oak Conservation Center on the Florida-Georgia Border, St. Catherine’s Island off the coast of Georgia, and Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. The remaining weeks are spent in a developing country setting.  In recent years, including 2010, this has been at Sokoine University in Morogoro, Tanzania, in and near Tanzanian national parks, and at the University of Dar Es Salaam’s Institute of Marine Sciences, as well as other locales on the island of Zanzibar.

While in Tanzania, participants learned about “one health” efforts uniting physicians and veterinarians in defeating bovine tuberculosis, a disease that afflicts humans, cattle, and wildlife, such as lions infected by eating cape buffalo that had comingled with domestic cattle. We also saw how local habitat degradation related to a hydroelectric dam, in combination with a globally important fungal infection, led to the extirpation of the Kinhasi spray toad, and how habitat rehabilitation and captive breeding programs are setting the stage for repatriation to the wild.

Tanzania provides a splendid example of a developing country where the indigenous population is working both independently and collaboratively to move toward an increasingly sustainable ecosystem that yields robust returns for its people. Tanzania’s protection of its environment is by no means complete, but it is progressing at a rapid pace, reconnecting formerly fragmented ecosystems, restoring damaged hydrology, and countering infectious disease problems. While much more remains to be done in Tanzania, it offers a hopeful case study.

The 2010 Envirovet Summer Institute trained 28 individuals, including the largest group of developing country participants to date.  Included were six African veterinarians—four from Nigeria, one from Tanzania, and one from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—as well as two Tanzanian ecologists who work for national parks there.  All the African veterinarians hold master’s degrees, one has a PhD, and three others are pursuing PhDs.  Their interests ranged from the conservation of okapis and highly endangered mountain gorillas in the DRC to prevention of contaminant-related diseases associated with the petroleum industry to rabies, which commonly affects domestic animals, wildlife, and humans in many developing nations.

Others in the 2010 class included a professor of wildlife pathology at Madras Veterinary College in Chennai, India; a veterinarian and elephant health expert from India who is currently completing a PhD at the University of Calgary; a veterinarian who is studying genetics of endangered elephants in Thailand; two wildlife veterinarians from Indonesia; a recent DVM and PhD graduate of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Montreal; a zoo veterinarian from Italy; and a Brazilian veterinarian who has cared for wildlife, including those trapped on transient islands formed as waters rise behind newly constructed hydroelectric dams. In addition to these post-graduate professionals, the 2010 Envirovet class included 12 veterinary students from Canada and the U.S., all of whom have considerable experience in zoo medicine and/or wildlife health.

The 2010 Envirovet provided intensive immersion learning through lectures, laboratories, group projects, and field work. Students were challenged and shown how to mount careers in the developed and developing worlds that address out-of-control population- and ecosystem-level problems related to obsolete methods in agriculture, forestry, mining, manufacturing, power generation, transportation, and ecotourism.

In Tanzania, Envirovet explored an environmentally sustainable dairy and beef farm; Pawaga-Idodi Wildlife Management Area, the effects of overgrazing and drought; the households and livestock bomas of Maasai and Barabaig families; the ecosystems and animals of the Great Ruaha basin and Ruaha National Park; the research programs of Sokoine University of Agriculture and Ifikara Research Center; Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park, home to highly endangered primates in the small remnant of the indigenous forest that once covered the island; the lucrative, ecologically sustainable seaweed farming and shellfish industries of Paje and Bweleo villages; and the coral reef west of Zanzibar that supports both ecotourism and indigenous fishing.

Envirovet participants were taught to recognize how urbanization in the developing world crowds and stresses human populations, how habitat loss crowds and stresses wildlife populations, how bush meat exploitation increases risks of species depletion as well as human pandemics, and how exotic invasive species both stress and spread disease to native species.
In turn, they learned about how to support recovery of biodiversity, especially threatened and endangered species, and how to prevent and mitigate the transfer of infectious diseases among domestic species, wildlife, and humans.

 

Our outstanding faculty members are the greatest assets of the Envirovet program. The all-volunteer faculty in the U.S. portions of the course includes experts affiliated with the National Institutes of Health, Cornell University and the International Rhino Foundation, the University of Vermont, and many other institutions (for more information on Envirovet, see http://vetmed.illinois.edu/envirovet/html)