Some of the world's most challenging wildlife health and management problems, including foot and mouth
disease, rinderpest, trypanosomiasis, bovine TB, management of rhinoceros and elephant to avoid poaching, distemper and rabies in
endangered carnivores, conflicts between wildlife and human populations, wildlife caught in wars, and international focus on
wildlife welfare, occur in Africa. The diversity of diseases and hosts, and intense social, human health, economic, and political
problems make dealing with veterinary and wildlife health issues difficult at best. To help meet some of these challenges, over
the last 3 decades efforts between African and American colleagues have arisen. This paper recognizes several cooperative programs
and efforts, should inform the North American veterinary community of challenges that remain, and discuss the more successful
Africa is a very diverse, in some countries wildlife veterinarians are an accepted part of the wildlife
management team, and in others they are not.10 Educational and political infrastructures vary between countries.
Veterinary education and access to modern veterinary equipment and drugs varies widely. In advanced countries the intensive
utilization of wildlife and the innovation of wildlife veterinarians have advanced knowledge and procedures well beyond that found
in North America. Wildlife veterinarians from North America often learn as much from their African colleagues and experiences, as
The motives for development of cooperative programs vary. Some provide veterinary care for high profile
species. Others develop from mutual desire to aid endangered species conservation. Some develop or continue because cooperative
programs allow financial support. Unfortunately financial support for veterinary efforts can be held out as a "carrot" to pressure
nations to comply with the political and social agendas of North American governmental and non-governmental (NGO) organizations.
Some programs evolve out of common interests in developing management tools, like improved anesthetic techniques. Unique species
and sample collection opportunities allow American scientists to do work not possible outside of Africa. American colleagues may
in turn provide access to labs and techniques not available in Africa. Successful long-term projects between American and African
collaborators are "a two-way street."
Roots in Africa
African veterinarians pioneered the art/science of wildlife management. Mass capture and relocations of
wildlife and boma trapping using sheeting sprang from the necessity to move thousands of animals. Dr. Harthoon was one of the
first to use immobilization drugs and document capture associated stress and myopathy in African wildlife. His book "The Flying
Syringe" and Dr. Young's 1973 book "The Capture and Care of Wild Animals" preceded similar texts in America.
Examples of African--American Cooperative Programs
Drug companies have provided materials and advisors to assist African veterinarians. In the 1970s Dr.
Janssen, a pioneer in developing narcoleptic agonist/antagonists, worked with Drs. Hoffmeyer, de Vos, and Raath on the first
applications of new drugs (carfentanil and R-51163) for immobilizing challenging species. In the1990s, as new alpha adrenergic and
narcotic agonist/antagonists became available, Dr. Lance of Wildlife Pharmaceuticals, Inc. of Fort Collins, Colorado, the
Smithsonian and the South African Parks Board explored practical applications for these new drugs. Recent examples include
successful testing of A-3080, a very potent rapid acting narcotic, with medetomidine and ketamine for immobilization of gemsbok
and nyala with reversal by naltrexone and atipamezole.2,4 These newer drugs are being further tested and are providing
better pharmaceutical tools for various capture and transport operations and conservation efforts.
For 25 yr Smithsonian's NOAHS scientists and colleagues in Africa studied reproductive physiology, genetics
and anesthesia. Initial work on physiology and genetics of cheetah involved Drs. O'Brien, Wildt and Bush who worked with the
Pretoria and Johannesburg Zoos and the deWildt Cheetah Breeding Station.19 This expanded to Kruger Park and included
reproductive physiology of elephant, cape buffalo, kudu, gnu, and lion and anesthesia studies on giraffe.1
In the 1990s emphasis shifted to bovine TB, introduced to buffalo from cattle, which is a major disease
problem in the Kruger Park ecosystem. Studies included development of ante-mortem tests for TB in buffalo. Current studies include
development of tests for rhinoceros and elephant and the development and validation of BCG vaccine in buffalo to control the
spread of the disease.
Anesthesia studies focus on problem species. Carfentanil, A-3080, medetomidine and their antagonists, plus
ketamine are combined to develop practical anesthesia. Species include giraffe, impala, hartebeest, gemsbok, nyala, roan antelope
and kudu. Studies on eland, giant eland, kudu and waterbuck are planned. South African collaborators lead by Dr. Grobler, include
Drs. Cooper, Morkel and Meyer. The Smithsonian program serves as training for interns and associates in clinical medicine,
anesthesia, immunology, pathology, physiology, and genetics and wildlife conservation.
A very focused cooperative efforts in Africa is the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). Requested by
Dian Fossey, and started shortly after her death in 1986 by Dr. Foster and Ms. Keesling of the Morris Animal Foundation (MAF),
today the MGVP monitors and provides treatment to the endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic
of the Congo.3,5 When the program began, the mountain gorilla population in Rwanda was estimated at 248. By the early
1990s, despite poaching and tremendous human population pressure, the number had grown to 310. Around 1990 Dr. McFie began a
tourist program in the Bwindi's Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and a MAF funded genetic study recently confirmed that this
population is a second isolated group of mountain gorilla, doubling the known population to 620.
The MGVP policy is that interventions occur when problems are life threatening or human induced, such as by
snares. Potential human impacts on gorilla have lead to vaccination and education programs. Currently investigations into
cryptosporidium and health threats from rodent populations, and the use of molecular techniques on field and archived samples, are
Ten expatriate veterinarians, most from the United States, have participated. Several found themselves in
difficult, dangerous, even life threatening situations. The MGVP also employs a project director (Dr. Cranfield), and two Rwandan
veterinarians who assist with field immobilization, research and education. Through most of the 1990s this region was torn by
wars, social upheaval and genocide, but the cooperative African-American efforts to save mountain gorillas and their habitat
Cooperative wildlife veterinary programs are supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Since 1989,
the WCS-Field Veterinary Program (FVP) has worked to augment conservation efforts of veterinarians, biologists and ecologists in
developing countries.8 The WCS-FVP has two veterinarians (Drs. Karesh and Deem) and support staff. In Africa, FVP staff
has trained wildlife department personnel, parks guards, foreign national biologists and local veterinarians in techniques for
monitoring and protecting health and using veterinary expertise. The WCS-FVP has focused on countries lacking in expertise and
financial resources, hence the "cutting edge" is redefined from developing new immobilization or diagnostic techniques, to
advancing basic veterinary concepts like health monitoring, preventive medicine, zoonotic or emerging disease issues, and animal
FVP conducted numerous health surveys on important species such as mandrills in Gabon, duikers in
Congo/Zaire,9 gray parrots in Sao Tome and Principe, pancake tortoises in Tanzania, and savanna ungulates (black-faced
impala, elephant,6 buffalo and kob7). If available, local authorities and/or veterinarians are involved to
raise awareness and profile of wildlife health concerns. The FVP made major contributions to field immobilization and biotelemetry
as well as health studies on northern white rhinoceros in Congo/Zaire, bongo in the Republic of the Congo, pythons in Cameroon,
forest buffalo in Gabon, and elephants in Cameroon, Congo, Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.
Over the years, FVP formed collaborative relationships with organizations including ECOFAC (a European
Community funded regional conservation program) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Projects focus on health problems arising from
interaction between wildlife, livestock and people. New conservation strategies like buffer zoning, ecotourism, and
community-based management of protected areas can pose risks to wildlife if appropriate precautions are not taken. ECOFAC
personnel and the Republic of Congo requested that FVP establish baseline normals for potential pathogen exposure for lowland
gorilla before ecotourism and research are started. In CAR, WWF staff are habituating lowland gorilla groups for future
ecotourism. The FVP is training project staff to monitor gorilla health non-invasively, and establishing protocols for preventing
transmission of diseases between humans and gorillas by incorporating health considerations for tourists and vaccination and
parasite control programs for project staff. The FVP is establishing ties among health professionals in the United States and CAR
to address human preventive medicine concerns, and linking staff in CAR with MGVP to provide cross training among projects with
similar health issues. The Smithsonian, MAF- MGVP, and WCS-FVP are large programs, which have stayed the course and contributed
significantly to wildlife health in Africa. Beginning in the late 1980s a small non-profit organization, International Wildlife
Veterinary Services took a different approach by supporting veterinarians already working on health and management problems in
Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia and South Africa. Funds raised in North America purchase drugs, supplies, equipment, travel,
communications and publication. IWVS focused on rhinoceros conservation, capture and relocation,11 dehorning, health
studies,13,14,18 refining anesthesia15 and defining baselines,16,17 and public education. This
strategy allowed a very small organization with relatively few resources to have a relatively large impact.
North American veterinarians have worked in Africa for NGO's as independent contractors. Even with the best of
intentions and education, some found the magnitude of the problems, government bureaucracy, social and political barriers to
accomplishing goals, lack of communications, and harsh conditions frustrating.20 Some veterinarians returning from
working in Africa have argued that North American institutions should critically evaluate the linkages between their field
conservation projects and sustainable development.21 Some NGO's failed to obtain or continue government permission for
projects, or support their veterinarians when problems arose. As in North America suspicion is present between political/economic
forces supporting wildlife and agriculture. Projects lacking in country government support and colleagues, and long-term financial
support have a probability of failing. One Africa veterinarian summed it up bluntly. "We don't need you chaps coming here to save
Africa, we don't need high technology. We may need some help and advice, but we really need reliable vehicles, gasoline, supplies,
modest amounts of equipment and support, not interference and meddling from your media and government." This opinion is supported
by the success of collaborations focused on capacity building, long-term relationships and supporting African colleagues. Finally,
some have questioned the priorities of current wildlife veterinary work, and whether Africans gain any real benefits, pointing out
that more veterinary involvement is needed in basics like natural resource use and resolving conflicts between people, livestock
Africa gets in your blood. Once you have worked there and enjoyed its striking beauty, biologic diversity,
and hospitality, you want to return again and again. Africa has many wildlife, livestock and human health challenges as well as
religious, racial, tribal, social and economic challenges. Veterinarians have been caught up in these problems. Some have seen
colleagues shot to death, been kidnapped or held at gunpoint, animals in their care killed, seen local people in abject poverty
sick and dying of untreated diseases. Some have contracted serious diseases. Many parts of Africa are wild places and will remain
so through most of the next century. The challenge for North American veterinarians who wish to work in Africa or to help wildlife
health and conservation efforts is to find adequate support, to identify African colleagues, to understand the social, political,
economic and biologic forces in conflict, and recognize that their experiences in Africa are likely to forever change how they
view life and the world. Africa is a place where veterinarians can both learn and contribute a great deal, a place that can make
your spirit soar, and can break your heart.
The authors thank Drs. Osofsky, Roelke-Parker, M. Kock, N. Kock and Gullet for sharing their African
experiences and Drs. Cranfield and Hilsenroth for written contributions. For those interested in visiting Africa and seeing what
wildlife health professionals are doing we recommend attendance at the joint meeting of the Wildlife Disease Association and the
Society for Tropical Veterinary Medicine at Kwa Maritane in Pilansberg National Park, South Africa in August of 2001. This paper
is dedicated to Drs. Barkley Hastings and Jim Foster, who left a part of themselves behind in Africa.
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