Data-Deficient Disease Risk Assessments: The Mojave Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) as a Model
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2013
Bruce A. Rideout1, DVM, PhD, DACVP; Roy Averill-Murray2, MS; Kim Field2, MS
1Wildlife Disease Laboratories, San Diego Zoo Global, San Diego, CA, USA; 2Desert Tortoise Recovery Office, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Reno, NV, USA


Disease risk analysis is a structured process for evaluating the likelihood and consequences of specific disease hazards occurring in a population as a result of a management action, such as a translocation. The process typically involves six steps: problem description, hazard identification, risk assessment, risk management, implementation and review, and risk communication.1,2

The hazard identification and risk assessment steps are data intensive, requiring detailed information on the prevalence of pathogens of concern in the target populations, and patterns of disease in both individuals and populations of affected species. This creates problems for most conservation programs where such data are lacking, but where management actions are still needed.

We recently conducted a comprehensive disease risk analysis for Mojave Desert tortoise translocations, despite significant data deficiencies. We took a combined approach, using traditional risk assessment procedures where data were available and a population risk matching approach where data were not available. The risk matching process involves matching relevant characteristics between the source and destination populations, such as population monitoring history, habitat characteristics, degree of human encroachment, and proximity to disease reservoirs (animal and environmental). Appropriate matching of characteristics helps to neutralize the risks associated with animal moves. Periodic program review and adaptive management are important when implementing any risk management strategy, but are particularly important when using risk matching in data-deficient scenarios.

We believe this combined approach to risk analysis allows for sound, science-based decision-making and effective risk mitigation despite the data deficiencies typically encountered in conservation programs today.

Literature Cited

1.  Armstrong, D., R. Jakob-Hoff, and U.S. Seal, (eds.). 2003. Animal Movements and Disease Risk: A Workbook. Fifth edition, IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Apple Valley, Minnesota.

2.  Jakob-Hoff, R., (ed.). (In press). IUCN Guidelines for Wildlife Disease Risk Analysis. IUCN/Species Survival Commission.


Speaker Information
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Bruce A. Rideout, DVM, PhD, DACVP
Wildlife Disease Laboratories
San Diego Zoo Global
San Diego, CA, USA

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