Wildlife Health Matters

Wildlife health programs no longer focus only on describing why an animal is sick or has died. For wild animals to be healthy, they need resources to survive, reproduce and thrive throughout their lives.

People who protect and manage wildlife and people who protect and manage the environment must work together, as wild animals and the environment they live in rely on each other to be healthy. We call this approach "Wildlife Health Matters".

To properly care for B.C.’s wild animal populations, we need to take three main steps.

1. Assess

We need to know how healthy wild animal populations are right now.

Understanding and measuring wildlife health, and developing a way to set baseline indicators of health is a "team sport". Many of the tools and approaches used to assess wildlife health fall outside of traditional animal health evaluations.

2. Monitor

We need to keep track of changes to wildlife health.

Until recently, most surveillance of animal health has focused on detecting dead or sick animals. From this, we know about hazards that kill animals, shorten their lives or harm their ability to reproduce. But, if we only track death and disease, we cannot begin to help before the worst has happened.

We need to watch for changes in risk factors before disease sets in—a process we call monitoring. Risk factors can include changes in land use, climate change, or new invasive species. Once we know where the greatest risks are, we can allocate resources to where they are needed most, before wildlife health problems become too serious.

3. Sustain

We need to do what we can to keep wildlife populations healthy, and protect them from dangers to their health.

To keep wildlife populations healthy, we need to identify risks and minimize them. Wild animals are exposed to many dangers and stresses that together can impact wildlife health. Wild animals can often cope if they have sufficient reserves (such as a bit more fat at the start of winter) and if the stressors are not too many. We can protect wildlife by reducing the stresses and dangers they face, for example by

  • Managing interactions between domestic and wild animals
  • Reducing or eliminating contaminants
  • Managing the movement or introduction of species

Cumulative Effects

Cumulative effects are the combined factors that affect the environment and the wildlife living in that environment. These factors are often human activities or human-caused events, such as industrialization, urbanization and climate change.

Cumulative effects can make wildlife less resilient to stress, and can change their ability to access the resources they need to survive and reproduce. Differences in the health of individual animals or in entire populations could reveal different cumulative effects. Tracking wildlife health information can help to decide how to manage wildlife health.

These efforts will help to

  • Minimize risk to vulnerable populations,
  • Identify ecosystems where cumulative effects are more prevalent
  • Signal emerging issues or risks to human health