Veterinary Pathology Capacity Building for Conservation Programs: Example of the Giant Panda Pathology International Exchange Training Workshop
Postmortem disease surveillance is fundamentally important for any wildlife conservation program. Complete postmortem examinations are essential for investigating causes of morbidity and mortality, for collecting baseline health data, and for building a sample archive for research. For projects operating internationally and in developing regions, there is often a crucial need to build in-country veterinary expertise and/or foster veterinary specialization in areas such as pathology, molecular diagnostics, epidemiology, and medicine of non-domestic animals. Challenges of such capacity building efforts are often logistical, and can include language translation, availability of supplies, and bureaucratic concerns such as permit requirements and tax forms. However, the potential benefits for conservation and for international collaborative relationships are numerous and significant.
Chinese conservation priorities are increasingly focused on reintroducing giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) into their native habitats and investing in disease control and prevention. In November, 2014, we implemented a pathology training workshop for Chinese veterinary professionals at the Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control and Prevention Base, Sichuan Province, China. This was the first of a series of planned veterinary workshops that are viewed as the initial step in an ongoing effort to build veterinary and epidemiologic expertise in China to contribute to disease prevention and control for giant pandas and other Chinese wildlife. The workshop was attended by 26 participants from 18 zoos, wildlife parks, or giant panda research centers in China. Instruction was conducted via wet labs, lectures, a computer database session, and case-based learning exercises, and language translation was performed by a professional service. Post-workshop questionnaires were administered to participants to evaluate initial outcomes and to elicit feedback. Specific challenges and lessons learned from this capacity building workshop included the need to accommodate unexpected scheduling changes, difficulties identifying Chinese or panda-specific pathology case material, the importance of translators with knowledge of medical terminology, and the complexities of transferring funds internationally for workshop support. The results of the post-workshop survey were positive, and strongly suggest that trainees intend to perform more systematic necropsies on a greater proportion of mortalities. Another valuable outcome was the establishment of new communication channels between wildlife veterinary professionals within China, and internationally. We expect that this will facilitate more open communication and collaboration for pathology and postmortem disease surveillance in the future. Follow-up with participants at 1 and 2 yr post workshop will be conducted to evaluate longer term outcomes. Training materials from this project, though focused on giant panda pathology, are adaptable to other species and conservation programs, and could be used as a general instructional template for international capacity building in veterinary pathology and disease investigation.
Funding support was provided by Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong (OPCFHK). The authors would also like to thank Mabel Lam, Yan Ping, Megan Varney, Nathalie Mauroo, Lee Foo Khong, Mickie Cheung, Hui Suk Wai, and veterinary and technical staff at the Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control and Prevention Base, China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.