The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project Team (MGVP, Inc.), Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, USA
Conservation medicine focuses on the intersection of animal health, human health, and ecosystem health. It differs from classical public health epidemiology in that conservation medicine aims to protect and improve ecosystem and animal health, in addition to human health. Conservation medicine involves studying diseases shared among species and interactions with environmental variables over the relevant range of biologic, temporal and spatial scales. Zoonotic diseases and the emergence of new diseases are therefore of primary concern and are particularly important when threatened or endangered great ape populations are involved. The effective practice of conservation medicine demands an integrated team approach involving wildlife and livestock veterinarians, local physicians, public health professionals, ecologists, politicians and communities. Common interests, improved data collection, and economies of scale argue for combining animal and human health surveillance and delivery efforts. This team approach needs to be tailored to the infrastructure and sophistication of the host country’s human and livestock health systems and must also be appropriate for the size and characteristics of the great ape population.
Examples from gorilla conservation programs range from those involving small populations with individually identifiable gorillas surrounded by dense human populations, to large unhabituated gorilla populations in areas of very low human density. It is often, by default, the wildlife veterinarian who coordinates the ‘One Health’ approach, because of his/her training in wildlife and livestock medicine as well as zoonotic and emerging disease issues.