The CWHC is Canada’s first and only national wildlife health program. The CWHC arose out of a need to better inform social decisions pertaining wildlife conservation, public health and economic activities including agriculture, fisheries and hunting. The CWHC has become an internationally unique model for a national wildlife health program. It was founded and continues to function as an independent science network positioned outside of government and benefiting from the autonomy, expertise and reputations of this hosts and network partners. Governments and industry now depend on the CWHC to address national and international obligations and expectations for wildlife health.
Building the network
The CWHC is in the business of producing knowledge. We have been fostering and supporting a growing network since 1992. Beginning with an affiliation of 4 veterinary colleges, our network has grown to include all of Canada’s veterinary colleges, partners in provincial governments, and affiliates and collaborators across all levels of government, in academia and in the non-profit sector. Members of the network play different roles, depending on their skills, the needs of their region and the problems of the day but we all interact with each other to pursue our common purpose of protecting healthy wildlife and the social values affected by wildlife health. The CWHC network has created a learning community which, through shared expertise and information, allows Canada to have a powerful awareness of the threats to wildlife and risks wildlife present to society, hopefully in time to reduce or prevent harms.
Capacity is about growth of knowledge and skills along with the developing the capabilities of our team and our network to effectively secure, use and sustain resources to attain our shared goals. The CWHC and its partners have invested in building the organizational structures and enabling environment to support and sustain this growth. We have built capacity in 3 main areas:
- Individuals able to produce and use knowledge to describe, assess, protect and promote wildlife health
- Scientific and technical tools that reflect world class science needed to investigate and assess wildlife health issues
- Administrative capacity to support our network and efficiently use public funds for the betterment of wildlife health
WILDLIFE HEALTH 2.0
Local, national and global changes are producing new challenges for wildlife health. Emerging infections, introduced diseases, climate change and pollution continue to impact conservation, public health and economies. The CWHC is working to ensure that Canada’s capacity to anticipate, detect and respond to growing health threats not only meet today’s concerns, but also tomorrow’s challenges.
Since 1992, the CWHC has conducted national surveillance for numerous issues of significance to the welfare of wildlife and humans. These projects range from large scale active surveillance (e.g. AIV, WNV, WNS), to more targeted campaigns (e.g. botulism, CWD), and even passive surveillance (e.g. CWD, BSal, SFD). National surveillance provides information on impacted areas and pathogenicity of a disease, it can alert us to the emergence and spread of diseases, and can inform wildlife management and public health practices in response to these health risks. The CWHC has been conducting such projects since its inception, and continues to update its list as new health risks arise.
Chronic Wasting Disease SURVEILLANCE
The CWHC initiated surveillance of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in 1997. Since the initial positive diagnosis of CWD in a mule deer in 2000, surveillance has greatly increased. To date over 45,000 animals have been tested for CWD and over 400 animals have been positively identified with the disease. In 2005 the CWHC’s National Chronic Wasting Disease Control Strategy (NWDCS) was approved as a national strategy with the goal of eradicating CWD in Canada. In 2006 the CWHC initiated a research program in Saskatchewan with the province’s Ministry of Environment and PrioNet to investigate factors that affect the spread of CWD. Although the surveillance program ended in 2012, the CWHC continues to diagnose CWD from...
West Nile Virus SURVEILLANCE
In the summer of 1999 the first cases of West Nile Virus in the western hemisphere were documented in New York City. Due to the existing network of infrastructure and expertise the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) was able to rapidly initiate surveillance efforts across Canada in the summer of 2000. During this initial surveillance period over 2,000 birds were examined. Although no cases of WNV were identified initially, between 2001 and 2016 over 60,000 birds were tested for WNV and nearly 4,400 tested positive from across Canada. Additionally, these surveillance efforts have vastly contributed to our understanding of the causes of wild bird mortality.
NATIONAL WILDLIFE DISEASE STRATEGY
In the fall of 2005, a national frame work developed by the CWHC over three years was accepted as Canada’s National Wildlife Disease Strategy. The NWDS is a national framework aimed at dealing with wildlife disease issues, and to minimize the detrimental impacts of wildlife disease on wildlife, public health, domestic animals, and economic interests. The strategy prompted full partnership among government agencies in charge of health and disease management of humans, wildlife, domestic animals, and the environment. Existing CWHC programs were implemented into this partnership and enhanced to achieve the goals of the NWDS. The NWDS outlines specific goals for prevention, detection, rapid response, and scientific management of wildlife disease. Additional goals include education of scientific personnel, and communication systems to link together all components of the Strategy and to keep the public accurately informed. The success in using the NWDS as a template to produce the National Chronic wasting Disease Control Strategy, and the Inter-agency Wild Bird Influenza Survey provided proof of concept, which supported its approval as Canada’s national strategy.
From its inception the CWHC has been active in monitoring instances of rabies in wildlife, and maintain an archive of these incidents. This data is reported biannually to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as part of our responsibilities as an OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) Collaborating Centre.
The CWHC’s Quebec regional centre has also run a rabies surveillance project, with a particular focus on eliminating raccoon rabies, since 2006. Originally, specimens submitted to the CWHC in Quebec were sent to the CFIA for testing, however, since 2010 the Quebec regional centre has conducted its own rabies testing, and in 2013 celebrated the 10,000th animal tested in the province.
BLUE WHALE EXCAVATION
In 1987 a 26m long mature female blue whale died and washed ashore near Tignish, PEI. In order to preserve the whale’s skeleton for future research and/or display the government of PEI and the Canadian Museum of Nature arranged for the burial of the whale.
In December of 2007 a team from the CWHC assisted in an exploratory dig was conducted at the burial site to find and examine the condition of a few select bones from the skeleton. In May 2008 the blue whale carcass was exhumed. Between July 2008 and November 2009 the highly porous whale bones underwent procedures to remove the natural oils these bones are filled with and which had gone rancid during the time the whale was buried.
The long buried whale skeleton was then prepared as displayed in a glass atrium at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia. The display showcases one of Canada’s natural treasures, and act as a centerpiece for the museum.
INTERNATIONAL POLAR YEAR
March 2007 marked the beginning of the fourth International Polar Year (IPY). This internationally coordinated event involved an intense 2-year (March 2007-2009) period of interdisciplinary research focused on issues of the Arctic and Antarctic regions conducted by thousands of scientists from over 60 countries. Research conducted encompassed the physical, biological, and social states of the Polar Regions. The timing of the IPY was particularly appropriate given the changing climate and its growing impact upon the environment and wildlife of these regions.
Canada was a host nation of the IPY and the CWHC played a role in numerous arctic wildlife health research projects during this time. These projects included monitoring food safety in northern communities, impacts of climate change to the health and survival of northern wildlife, and surveillance of diseases in Arctic wildlife.
SRI LANKAN COLLABORATION
The CWHC has been collaborating with the university and government of Sri Lanka since 2008 to help the country establish and develop the Sri Lanka Wildlife Health Centre (SLWHC). In 2013 a joint proposal entitled “Building Research Excellence in Wildlife and Human Health in Sri Lanka” from the CWHC and the SLWHC was accepted by Canada’s International Development Research Centre. The four year project contributed to the training of Sri Lankan scientists to conduct their national wildlife disease surveillance supported two Canadian graduate students to study the societal influence of cross-sectoral science and knowledge mobilization in the country. The project also supported CWHC staff teaching, research co-supervision, and mentoring activities in Sri Lanka.
WORKSHOP FOR WILDLIFE PROFESSIONALS
In February 2010 the CWHC held a two-day workshop for wildlife health professionals at Carleton University, Ottawa, ON. The workshop was attended by 70 individuals from across Canada and the United States. The purpose was to bring together wildlife health and disease management professionals in order to discuss animal welfare issues in wildlife management, research, and harvest, and the One World One Health Concept. The workshop also acted as a means to elicit feedback and comments regarding the CWHC program.
Cryptococcus in WESTERN CANADA
In 2012 a young porpoise was found stranded on the coast of Vancouver Island and subsequently euthanized. The necropsy of the young porpoise identified a severe infection with Crytococcus gattii, a fungal infection of the central nervous system. Cryptococcus is a tropical fungus, and this is only the second observation of its presence in Canada, the first being in BC over a decade ago. The fungus is a transmissible to humans, and other wild and domestic animals, making it a risk to public health. The disease was subsequently found to have spread to mainland BC and on to Washington State and Oregon.
In 2014 the Atlantic region of the CWHC discovered the fungal infection Cryptococcus gattii in white-tailed deer. Since white-tail deer are resident to Nova Scotia the pathogen is present in the local environment. Since its discovery Cryptococcus has been added to the list of infectious diseases of Nova Scotia. This creates knowledge of the disease presence, thus improving potential for early detection and treatment if subsequent infections occur.
SCIENCE ShUFFLE WORKSHOP
During the 2012 Canada-wide science fair in Charlottetown, PEI the CWHC held a workshop highlighting career opportunities in pathology and current research in pathology in the Atlantic region.
FIRST MEETING OF CMAERN
In March of 2013 representatives from the major marine mammal emergency networks (Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and BC), the Federal government (DFO and Parks Canada), the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and the CWHC convened in Charlottetown PEI for the first meeting of Canada's Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network. The purpose of the meeting was to evaluate and increase Canada’s capacity to respond to marine mammal emergencies.
Eyes on the North
The CWHC is actively engaging in research into the health of northern mammal populations. Working closely with hunters, wildlife managers, and public health professionals the CWHC aims to monitor changes to the health of northern animals. The research focuses on a number of species that are actively hunted in northern communities. This will have the dual impact of informing hunters on the health and safety of their food, and providing important data on the populations of these species.
In 2014 the Western/Northern region of the CWHC developed a method to diagnose animals infected with Babesia odocoilei. Babesia is a parasite of wild and domestic bovid and cervid species. The parasite destroys the host’s red blood cells causing anemia, weight loss and potentially death. Using the methods developed by the CWHC infections were identified in farmed elk and wild white-tailed deer in Saskatchewan. This is interesting because the typical vector of transmission for Babesia is the deer tick, which is not native to Saskatchewan. These instances of infection in Saskatchewan may be caused by ticks introduced to the province from migrating birds. Similar sporadic infections of Lyme disease also occur in Saskatchewan, which is interesting since it also carried by the deer tick. The new diagnostic tools developed by the CWHC allow for future forecasting and monitoring of Babesia infections. By extension this will enables us to track the prevalence deer tick, whose range is expected to change as a result of climate change.
WHIRLING DISEASE DETECTION
In 2016 the BC region of the CWHC diagnosed the first case of whirling disease in Canada from fish collected by Parks Canada employees in Banff National Park. The disease is caused by a Myxosporean parasite that causes fish to swim in erratic circular patterns. In young fish the disease itself has a >90%, mortality rate, and increases the risk of predation in older fish. The disease affects a number of important salmonid species present in Alberta. Whirling disease is considered a federally reportable disease in Canada, and this observation was reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, who subsequently confirmed the diagnosis. This has prompted further surveillance of watersheds inside and beyond the park to determine if the disease has spread.
SNAKE FUNGAL DISEASE
Snake fungal disease (SFD) is an emerging disease caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicolaan. The disease first identified in 2006 in North America infects a number of Canadian snake species, and has been found to cause significant morbidity and mortality in some cases. Thus far, the disease has only been identified in three fox snakes in Ontario, however, the distribution of the disease within or beyond Ontario is currently unknown.
In 2016 the CWHC initiated a passive surveillance program of archived snake samples dating back to 2012. The CWHC is also acting to raise awareness of the disease and encourage the general public to report possible incidents of the disease, and to submit dead specimens suspected of being infected with the disease.
CWHC FACILITATES WDA MEETING
In July of 2016, the CWHC, in partnership with the USGS National Wildlife Health Centre and the Wildlife Disease Association (WDA) co-hosted a one day workshop in New York state. Participants sought to define the essential function of national wildlife health programs and included individuals from around the globe with responsibilities in leading/managing national wildlife health programs, including Craig Stephen and Patrick Zimmer of the CWHC National Office. An international working group and a report describing workshop outcomes have been developed. This report (found at: https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20171038) helps inform planning and policies related to wildlife health and has already been used in the strategic planning of several programs globally.
In 1996, the CWHC took its first steps towards centralizing and standardizing its data. Regional Directors from across all four regions (at that time) met to discuss how best to standardize surveillance data and share data between the regions. This was initially accomplished by developing a set of Paradox database tables which were harmonized monthly. Once data was being shared between the regions, the national surveillance program really started to take shape.
Avian Botulism RESEARCH
Avian botulism outbreaks often occur across North America between July-September, and a single outbreak can kill thousands of birds.
The CWHC has participated in collaborative monitoring projects since the disease first appeared in the Great Lakes in 1998. Through continued surveillance the CWHC seeks to improve our understanding of the ecological factors influencing the occurrence of the bacteria and their production of the toxins that cause avian botulism.
AVIAN INFLUENZA SURVEILLANCE
The CWHC initiated passive surveillance of wild birds for cases of the Avian Influenza Virus in 2000, and in 2004 began organizing an active national survey of waterfowl for Influenza A viruses using the CWHC’s National Wildlife Disease Strategy as a template.
Dr. Chelsea Himsworth, director of the CWHC’s BC regional centre, developed new genomic methods to search for the virus in sediments of water bodies used by waterfowl.
The CWHC has been involved at every stage from pond, to bird, to population, to policy as we helped Canada’s response to the new highly pathogenic avian influenza strains.
National CWD Control Strategy
Using the framework of the draft National Wildlife Disease Strategy, the CWHC developed Canada’s National Chronic Wasting Disease Control Strategy. The goal of the NWCWDCS was to provide a national strategy to eradicate, or to control the spread of CWD such that it did not extend into new areas. In 2005 the NCWDCS was approved as Canada’s national strategy for the management of the disease.
Download the strategy HERE to learn more.
The University of Calgary became the fifth official regional centre of the CWHC in 2006.
Located within the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary. CWHC Alberta works in partnership with Wildlife Disease Specialists with Alberta Environment and Parks. Their mandate is to carry out wildlife diagnostics and contribute to Canada's national wildlife health surveillance program.
CWHC Alberta provides additional expertise in wildlife parasitology diagnostics and research study design. CWHC Alberta also maintains several active collaborative research and management programs on boreal and tundra caribou health and conservation, country food safety, and wildlife capture and welfare.
OIE COLLABOrating Centre
The World Organisation for Animal Health (Office International des Epizooties, or OIE) is an intergovernmental organisation originally formed in 1924 and responsible for the global improvement of animal health. The OIE is a reference organization to the World Trade Organization (WTO), and acts to regulate standards and guidelines for animal welfare and disease control worldwide.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency nominated the CWHC for inclusion as a collaborating centre of the OIE, and on May 25th 2007 the CWHC gained this designation. As such, the CWHC became the OIE’s first international centre for wildlife health and disease.
WHITE NOSE SYNDROME RESPONSE
White nose syndrome is a highly lethal disease of bats caused by a non-native fungus, which is estimated to have killed over 6 million bats since it was first observed in North America in 2006. The fungus grows on the skin of bats producing white fuzz on the muzzle, nose, and wings, which is where the disease gets its name. The infection harms the bats by exhausting the energy reserves of overwintering bats prior to the emergence of their insect prey in the spring.
Since 2008, the CWHC has been coordinating a wide range of collaborating partners to better understand white nose syndrome, to inform others, and identify means to slow its advance. The CWHC has been conducting regular surveillance to detect the disease, and is involved in multiple research projects designed to understand the disease, and monitor its spread.
DWHC Uses cwhc database
In 2009 the Dutch Wildlife Health Centre, located at Utrecht University, became the first external organization to use the CWHC's wildlife disease database.
To date, the DWHC has added more than four and a hlaf thousand records to the database and has been involved in the development of several new features (such as sample inventorying and file attachment) that have benefited all users of our system.
VANCOUVER RAT PROJECT
The Vancouver Rat Project is an important research project aimed at studying the health and ecology of Canada’s urban rats. Rats are ubiquitous in many urban centers, living in close proximity to humans. They also pose a significant public health risk, potentially carrying many human transmissible diseases. However, our understanding of the diseases they carry in Canadian cities is limited. The purpose of the project is to identify the pathogens carried by urban rats, and the extent of the risk they pose to public health.
To date the project has made numerous discoveries regarding the health, population, and ecology of Vancouver's urban rats. They have also found a number of pathogens that represent a real risk to public health including the "super-bug" Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and C. defficle.
The Vancouver Rat Project is directed by Dr. Chelsea Himsworth, a diagnostic pathologist and director of the BC regional office of the CWHC at the Animal Health Centre, British Columbia’s Ministry of Agriculture provincial veterinary diagnostic laboratory.
WILDLIFE HEALTH COURSES
Our regional centres often offer courses to students enrolled in wildlife courses through affiliated technical schools, as well as for government practitioners of wildlife management and conservation. These hands on courses help train our partners operating in the field and educate students who may one day become wildlife health and conservation specialists. These courses help inform our existing and future partners about wildlife health issues and provide them with training in conducting important health assessments of wild animals found dead.
WILD PIG PROJECT
The Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa) was introduced to Canada in the 1980s through the 1990s to be farmed for meat. The pigs were intentionally cross-bred with domestic pigs to cause them to grow larger. The cross-bred pigs began escaping, or were intentionally released from these farms, and began reproducing in the wild. These wild pigs are highly invasive, damaging to native ecosystems, and represent a threat to the health of native wildlife, livestock, and humans.
The CWHC has partnered with Dr. Ryan Brook, who has been leading the Canadian Wild Pig Project for the past five years, in order to survey wild pig health. Part of the CWHC’s role in this research is to assist the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in testing these pigs for classic swine fever. This surveillance is critical to achieving international recognition that Canada is free of this disease.
The Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, BC officially became the CWHC's BC regional centre in 2013. The centre operates as a partnership between the BC Ministry of Agriculture and BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.
As part of the national CWHC strategy, the CWHC BC examines and/or collects data on wildlife sampled alive or found dead in the province. We also participate in the National Avian Influenza, White Nose Syndrome, Bovine Tuberculosis, and Chronic Wasting Disease surveillance projects.
Wildlife issues of special concern to the CWHC BC include Avian Influenza in wild waterfowl, Bovine Tuberculosis in wild cervids, bat health, boreal ungulate (caribou and moose) health assessments, zoonotic disease risks, and outreach to a variety of communities living with and utilizing wildlife.
Bat Blitz is an annual bat awareness campaign conducted by the CWHC leading up to Halloween. The purpose of this campaign is to increase the public’s knowledge and awareness of bats, and the threat they face from white nose syndrome.
An emerging fungal disease Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (BSal), which poses a significant threat to salamanders, has recently been identified throughout Europe and Asia. BSal is closely related to the previously described B. dendrobatidis, which is responsible for the decline or extinction of over 200 species of amphibians worldwide. BSal has led at least one species to the brink of extirpation in Europe, and has caused 96% mortality during outbreaks. Although BSal has not yet been identified in North America, there are legitimate concerns that it may be introduced through the pet trade as it had been in Europe.
The CWHC is currently participating in passive surveillance for the disease, relying upon pet shop operators, owners of imported amphibians, and public citizens to report and/or submit specimens suspected of being infected with BSal. The CWHC is also working to raise awareness of the disease in both the general public and the scientific community.
WILDLIFE HEALTH INTELLIGENCE PLATFORM
In the last 25 years, approximately 500,000 animals have passed through the hands of CWHC staff for either a diagnostic assessment or testing for a specific disease. That information is stored in a centralized national database, which enables wildlife health professionals to store and access their own data and view similar data from across Canada.
The current system is designed with this data storage and access focus in mind. Our new system is designed to take the next step and help transform data into knowledge so that it is more useful to more people and more responsive to emerging questions and scenarios. In addition to diagnostic and testing data, the system will handle observational data (e.g. citizen science) and external sources of data in a bid to broaden our scope of knowledge and provide a better tool set for decisions makers in a wildlife health context.
IN 2016, CWHC received funding from Agriculture Canada and Agri-food Canada to speed up the development of this new platform and we anticipate that the new system will be ready for beta testing in January of 2018 with a full release scheduled for March 30 of 2018.
The new Wildlife Health Intelligence Platform (WHIP) will allow the CWHC to grow its reputation as the international standard for national wildlife health programs.
EWDA Annual Meeting
Patrick Zimmer (CWHC Chief Operating Officer) and Kevin Brown (Information Services Manager) traveled to Berlin, Germany at the invitation of the European Wildlife Disease Association (EWDA), to share their expertise in wildlife health data management and to learn more about wildlife surveillance efforts ongoing in Europe.
The presentation was given in conjunction with the Dutch Wildlife Health Centre (DWHC) and focused on how data management underpins a strong wildlife health program and allows effective transformation of data into information.