World Parks Congress focuses on wildlife health issues

September 15, 2003

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA (SEPT 15)-- Held once every 10 years, this year's World Parks Congress will tackle key issues that affect both conservation and development--including the movement of diseases between wildlife, humans and their livestock. In response to this growing problem, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and other organizations have launched a new program designed to prevent and minimize the ecological and economic damage introduced diseases can cause.

"As the list of diseases affecting domestic animals and people that originate in the wild grows longer, we begin to realize that a more holistic approach is needed to manage the interface between wildlife, livestock and humans," said Dr. William Karesh, head of WCS's Field Veterinary Program and co-chair of the Veterinary Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the sponsor of the World Parks Congress. "Traditionally, disease is dealt with only after there is a crisis, then you call in vets. But dealing with a crisis is brutally expensive and usually the most difficult way to approach a problem. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure."

Beginning with a two-day forum that concluded today at the congress, the AHEAD program (Animal Health for the Environment and Development) brought more than 60 veterinarians, wildlife managers and other experts from around the world to explore the health-related challenges facing conservation and development efforts. Specifically, forum participants focused on several themes of critical importance to livestock and wildlife management, such as competition for grazing and water, disease transmission, local and global food security and nutrition, and other sources of conflict related to land-use planning and resource constraints.

Wildlife diseases such as brucellosis and chronic wasting disease (CWD) cause millions of dollars in damage annually in both Canada and the United States. In South Africa, tuberculosis continues to be a management challenge in Kruger National Park.

The primary goal for AHEAD organizers is establishing a multidisciplinary model involving both development agencies and environmental organizations that combines the traditionally separate fields of conservation and health. "The health of communities throughout the world is inextricably linked to the health of the natural resources around them, yet mainstream conservation often fails to integrate this into its thinking," said Dr. Steve Osofsky, WCS's senior policy advisor for Wildlife Health. "Health and conservation professionals need to take seats at the same table. AHEAD is issuing the invitations."
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CONTACT: John Delaney (IN DURBAN: 082-858-3255; jdelaney@wcs.org)
Stephen Sautner (718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org)

Wildlife Conservation Society

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