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Foundation Fellow Steps Up to Help Primates

For Tiffany Wolf, the call to improve wildlife health came early in her veterinary education at Louisiana State University, where she received a veterinary student grant to study infectious disease in wild turtles.

She was soon hooked and her drive to help wildlife led her to a residency at The Wilds, a conservation facility in Ohio, where she worked on research projects to help Asian rhinos, American kestrels and hellbenders (a giant salamander).

“Through these experiences, my veterinary career path began to span the areas of clinical medicine and wildlife research,” says Dr. Wolf, who became an associate veterinarian at the Minnesota Zoo.

Dr. Wolf recognized an increasing need for research into wildlife infectious diseases, and she hopes to step up as a veterinary researcher. A coveted Zoetis–Morris Animal Foundation Advanced Veterinary Training Fellowship, which she received in 2010, is helping her to do so.

Her research focuses on understanding the epidemiology and impacts of respiratory diseases on the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. One of her interests is understanding the risks of tuberculosis to these and other great ape populations.

“Tuberculosis is a disease that could have potentially devastating consequences on a great ape population, but we currently have very little understanding of this disease in wild apes,” Dr. Wolf explains. “This was recently demonstrated with the discovery made by other researchers of a novel form of tuberculosis in a wild chimp in western Africa.”

The goal of her work is to better characterize this risk so that population managers will have improved information to use as they develop new strategies to protect and preserve the health of this chimpanzee population.

She has been working with collaborators in Kampala, Uganda, to develop a noninvasive test that could be used to screen great apes for infection without having to capture them. So far, she has identified a promising method and is working to validate its use in primates.

Dr. Wolf presented her preliminary research at the annual meeting of the Wildlife Disease Association in Lyon, France, last year, and the American Journal of Primatology recently published a review of this issue by Dr. Wolf and her colleagues. In addition to her work on tuberculosis transmission, Dr. Wolf is analyzing data from several respiratory disease outbreaks that have affected the chimp communities of Gombe Park. She hopes to help improve the health surveillance system currently used to monitor disease in the chimp population.

Thanks to her Foundation-funded research, Dr. Wolf has advanced as a PhD candidate in the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s Comparative and Molecular Biosciences Program. In doing so, she is well on her way to becoming an established wildlife health researcher.

“I look forward to having a greater impact on the conservation of wildlife populations by broadening our understanding of the factors that drive disease emergence and transmission across species, and identifying key methods in disease control,” she says.

Her efforts will go a long way toward promoting wildlife, human and ecosystem health.

November 18, 2013