The lack of board-certified veterinary pathologists and wildlife pathologists in Latin America may have a considerable impact on the ex situ and in situ conservation programs in the Latin American countries. Until late 2002 there were no formal residency programs to train veterinary pathologists in these countries so they would be eligible to sit the boards of The American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP). Under these circumstances, the quality of the pathologic diagnoses and their appropriate application to conservation and research efforts, and emerging and re-emerging wildlife disease reporting cannot be assured. Many species involved in conservation programs are indigenous to countries with very limited economic resources or with sociopolitical situations that draw the attention of their citizens from wildlife. For many wildlife field projects in Latin America, these efforts currently depend on foreign support, primarily from North America and Europe, and include the importation of personnel and equipment and the exportation of samples. The cost for such support may be high and is often impractical. As a result, routine gross and histopathologic examinations are not performed or are performed by inadequately trained people, and valuable information is lost.
Currently, two ACVP-board certified veterinary pathologists serve in Latin America, and apparently only one works with zoo and wild animals (at Africam Safari, Puebla, Mexico). This lack of pathology support has been the subject of much concern among the individuals and institutions involved in this presentation. The initial objective was to establish a formal residency program to train Latin American veterinary pathologists in the United States and, with time allow this program to grow until there is at least one such program in each country in Latin America. This would create a network for true “in situ conservation pathology” and have a great impact on Latin American conservation. In 2001, The Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology at the College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman, WA, approved a proposal to start a residency program to train Latin American veterinary pathologists in collaboration with Northwest ZooPath, WA. In late 2002, Africam Safari offered a formal, in situ residency program for Latin American veterinary pathologists (two positions) after the ACVP board-certification of its staff pathologist. Now pathologists can be trained in Latin America to become eligible to sit the ACVP boards. A few years ago this seemed far from feasible. Now the expected snowball effect is probable.
The residency is a 4-year program and includes a self-teaching study schedule; training in gross pathology, histopathology and writing of formal pathology reports; research; and periodic mock exams similar to the ACVP certifying exam. Teaching materials include the caseload at Africam Safari, histopathology slide collections, gross pathology kodachromes (NOAH’s Arkive and Africam’s collection), and an on-site library including journals (Veterinary Pathology, Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, Journal of Wildlife Diseases, as well as some 2,000 bibliographic references from scientific journals) and books (including some of the titles covering general and systemic pathology, cytology and zoo animal and wildlife diseases). Resident research activities must include a retrospective study on the causes of disease and death in a single species, a prospective study on a major or new disease that needs special diagnostic testing, and a case report. An annual 1-month externship at Northwest ZooPath is also an integral part of the program.
A 1-year pilot internship program started at Africam Safari in June 2002 with a graduate student from the Benemerita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla and was funded by Africam Safari. Apart from the basic training in gross pathology and histopathology, the trainee has completed her contribution to a multi-institutional project on a previously unreported disease in zebras (sarcoid with demonstrable bovine papillomavirus infection) as well as histoplasmosis in maras and is currently working on a retroprospective study of the morbidity and mortality in the captive mara colony at Africam as of January 2003.
From this beginning, we expect that there soon will be three to four residency positions (two of them in situ at Africam and one or two between Washington State University and Northwest Zoopath) for Latin American veterinarians. These training positions will positively impact the development of veterinary pathology as applied to nondomestic animals in Latin America, in situ conservation programs for Latin American wildlife, and the peoples of Latin America. Our efforts are now directed to stabilize long-term financial support for these valuable training positions. At Africam Safari, we are looking for funding from wildlife agencies, United States and European zoo grant programs, and other resources. Additionally, we will start an external diagnostic service that may eventually cover the expenses of the two residency positions as well as to provide needed exposure to domestic animal pathology.