A timber rattlesnake is put under anesthesia to determine if its skin wound is caused by the Ophidiomyces fungus, an emerging threat that the Wildlife Health Program is investigating.

Courtesy of Robert Ossiboff

A timber rattlesnake is put under anesthesia to determine if its skin wound is caused by the Ophidiomyces fungus, an emerging threat that the Wildlife Health Program is investigating.

October 6, 2016

$4.8 Million Contract to Support Cornell Wildlife Program in Attacking Infectious Animal Disease

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After receiving a $4.8 million contract renewal, Cornell’s Wildlife Health Program plans to use progressive research to better manage wildlife diseases in New York, according to Elizabeth Bunting, a senior extension associate at the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

In 2010, Bunting and Krysten Schuler, another senior extension associate with the program, worked with the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation on a strategy to improve the DEC’s ability to combat wildlife disease, according to the University. The result was a partnership between the DEC and Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

This program’s greatest draw lies in how efficiently it is able to research diseases that would otherwise take months to investigate, according to Nicole Dean, a wildlife program aide.

Krysten Schuler discusses the results of a moose health survey project with DEC staff.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Bunting

Krysten Schuler discusses the results of a moose health survey project with DEC staff.

Dean explained that, through the Wildlife Health Program, anyone can contact the state to assess potentially infectious cases, allowing for immediate transportation of samples to Cornell’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center for testing and analysis.

Throughout its original five-year contract, from 2011 to 2016, the WHP worked to create a specific plan for surveillance, diagnosis and management of wildlife disease cases. The organization is currently beginning to implement these goals, according to the organization’s activities report.

“We are in a much better position than we were five years ago,” Schuler said. “In the past 20 years several introduced diseases had significant impact on wildlife populations in the US. With the infrastructure that we have built, we are much better able to detect introduced diseases early, which gives us a better chance for successful management.”

Cornell’s diagnostic center has tested over 6,000 animals and diagnosed outbreaks of diseases from epizootic hemorrhagic disease to songbird salmonella, according to the University.

The WHP plans to utilize its $4.8 million allotment to conduct progressive research of wildlife diseases and maintain quick response rates to potential infectious outbreaks, according to Bunting.

“We also want to learn more about how diseases move between wildlife and domestic animals and people,” Bunting said. “Instead of simply documenting cases, we want to understand the system as a whole so that we can have more effective disease management.”

Through programs like WHP, Bunting and her team said they hope to disrupt the stereotypes promoted by popular media about infectious diseases in animals.

“People might not be interested in conserving wildlife if they are afraid of them,” Schuler said. “By communicating our understanding of the disease systems, we can let people know where the actual risks are compared to the perceived risks that they may be getting from the popular media.”

The variety of resources offered by the University’s laboratories — backed by new genotyping techniques that allow for easier disease identification — is one of the program’s greatest strengths, according to Bunting.

“There’s a lot really cool things that we will be able to do in the next five years in disease detection and mapping because Cornell is on the cutting edge of new molecular techniques for disease and species detection,” Bunting said. “Imagine if we push forward with these techniques at Cornell — the potential will just be incredible.”

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