Veterinarians working in the field of wildlife and zoo health have similar goals: On a broad scale we identify animal health concerns impacting species management goals and communicate these findings to animal managers and other stakeholders. We also strive to improve animal health and welfare during animal handling and care through education, training and development of best management practices. Regulations, policy and protocols govern both wildlife and zoo veterinarians to ensure animal health and welfare needs are appropriate and standard. Where wildlife agency and veterinarian’s jobs diverge is the scope of responsibility and the impact of decisions. For agency wildlife professionals, this difference is driven by the tenets of the North American Model and the funding structure of the Wildlife Restoration Act.
The North American Model is based on the public trust doctrine principle that wildlife resources are owned by no one, to be held in trust by government for the benefit of present and future generations and that state and federal governments in the U.S. have regulatory authority over wildlife. Central to the North American Model is that every citizen is entitled to the opportunity to hunt and fish, and that ethical, regulated use of fish and wildlife resources insures the maintenance of abundant fish and wildlife through funding associated with hunting and fishing. The passing in 1937 of the Wildlife Restoration or Pittman-Robertson Act provided the mechanism of funding support for continued management of robust and healthy wildlife populations. The Act imposed an excise tax on the sale of all guns and ammunition which would be divided among the states to be used for wildlife restoration. This funding is returned to the states as a 3:1 match (the match generated by hunting tags and license fees) and is the primary state-related funding source along with money from the state legislatures for state wildlife management agencies.
Nevada is home to the largest population of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in the lower 48 states numbering approximately 11,000. This species suffered precipitous population declines as the west was settled from overhunting, overgrazing and the introduction of novel pathogens from domestic sheep and goats. Recovery of the species has been significantly impacted by respiratory disease and wildlife veterinarians are actively involved in ongoing conservation efforts. Management, conservation, and restoration of bighorn sheep is an excellent example of how the Wildlife Restoration Act turned a keystone species in peril into a recovered and robust population across western North America, enjoyed by many wildlife enthusiast and a plethora of shared habitat dependent species.