There has been a global alert on public health threats in the past two decade due to the emergence of infectious agents from animal vectors, such as avian influenza, Middle East respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and recently the Ebola hemorrhagic fever. These disease emergences emphasize the importance of a national, regional and global health security concern. One Health concept has been an increasingly popular approach to manage challenging disease outbreaks. It focuses on the interplay between animal (livestock), human, and environmental health and drivers. Strengthening health systems to improve system performance is critical. The important step is to improve capacity of individual, institution and national systems to detect and respond to public health and animal health emergencies. In-service training is one of the best investments in capacity building for existing personnel. Joint training for multidisciplinary professionals such as medical doctors, livestock health and wildlife health & ecology experts had been conducted in several countries with good outcomes. However, there are gaps in wildlife and environmental health expertise. Improving capacity of this sector is of critical needs to leverage the sector to work effectively with One Health partners from other sectors on issues such as zoonotic disease and food safety with a wildlife component.
However, it is a challenge for low- and middle-income countries to establish capacity in zoo and wildlife health management. Wildlife is applied to different groups of animals in various settings including; 1) free-ranging wildlife, 2) captive wildlife such as those kept in zoos and farms, and 3) feral animals or domesticated animals that have subsequently returned to live as wild populations. For captive wildlife health and welfare, with special reference to zoological parks and aquariums, there are certain sets of standards that member institutions must comply with those set forth by regional and international organizations such as the World Association for Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).
National wildlife health capacity should start with a good planning process that engage all stakeholders. There has been significant development in Thailand with collaboration among government agencies, academics and international organizations. The Thai One Health Network has been officially established with designated coordinating unit based at the Ministry of Public Health with dedicated One Health resource center with steering committee and personnel to coordinate among member institutions. Sustainability plans should be established when capacity is developed to ensure the continuation of the activities for long-term commitment. Learning the technical skills is good and needed for zoo and wildlife health professionals. However, significant capacity level can be improved with the political and decision-maker support.
The fundamental capacity for zoos and wildlife health institutions include the ability to keep healthy wild animals in artificial habitat. Safety for animals and visitors needs to be the most important attributes for the design and construction of animal exhibit and infrastructures for customer service. For animal health capacity, modern zoos and wildlife health institutions require good medical and preventive medicine programs. The zoo/wildlife health management program includes all activities associated with reducing harm from pathogens and diseases in animals, including social, economic and ecological harm. There should be key elements such as prevention, early detection and response to disease or health threats to individual or population. Additional components are required: 1) research capacity to obtain key information needed for better management, 2) a conservation effort to ensure that the zoos are contributing directly to wildlife conservation for the country and 3) education program for visitors and the public.
A country will have to prioritize and decide which components of the program it will establish before others. Examples of technical training courses conducted in Thailand include anesthesia, pathology, epidemiology, hands-on medical and surgical training. For zoo keepers, curators and animal staff, training such as husbandry, breeding, small population management, animal identification, record keeping, welfare and enrichment. Education is another critical role for modern zoos. Field epidemiology training for wildlife experts is one of the platforms that will bring more technical expertise for wildlife professionals in Thailand and the region. Joint surveillance and joint outbreak investigation are useful tools to assist in this process. Systematic programs for wildlife epidemiology should be established with the aim of increasing number of individual experts, mentors, laboratory and institution responsible for wildlife disease surveillance, outbreak investigation and response at national level and reaching out to neighboring countries.
1. Training Manual on Wildlife Diseases and Surveillance. Paris, France: World Organization for Animal Health; 2010.