December 23, 2021 — Policies to protect the health and well-being of animals have been crucial to conservation efforts around the world. However, policy development requires scientific data to formulate regulations and convince skeptics. The Foundation’s funded study results often have been a key piece in the complex puzzle of policymaking. Data our funded researchers generate often find their way into policy documents, guiding conservation strategies or the crafting of new laws to address animal health issues.
Here’s a sampling of how some of our researchers’ findings have shaped policies to improve the lives of animals across the globe:
In 2016, European, American and Canadian officials amended their regulations on importing pet salamanders. An emerging salamander disease called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) was quickly becoming a major health threat to the diversity of these animals in the wild. Bsal was introduced to wild European salamanders via the pet trade and caused rapid population declines; some species have declined as much as 90% with no signs of recovery. This deadly disease has yet to be detected in North America, the continent with the greatest diversity of salamanders, and measures were quickly put into place, thanks in part to our funded researchers. The team continues to work on proactive ways to better detect Bsal to minimize the spread of the disease via the pet trade.
In January 2017, another emerging disease caused a mass die-off of critically endangered Mongolian saiga antelope. This unusual mortality event was linked to an outbreak of peste-des-petits ruminants in livestock that spilled over into native wildlife. PPR is a globally emergent viral disease that had never been seen before in any free-ranging antelope. Our funded researchers worked with international and local partners to identify ways to stop the spread of PPR in Mongolia and help stave off regional extinction of the saiga and other threatened Mongolian wildlife. Data from the study helped inform global PPR eradication policies, including those by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Organisation for Animal Health.
In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spilled more than 170 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. A major cleanup method after the spill was the use of an oil dispersant called Corexit 9500. While the dispersant worked well to clean up the oil before it got to shore, little data existed on the dispersant’s effects on marine wildlife. Foundation-funded researchers showed non-motile oysters can suffer toxic effects from Corexit 9500. This new information continues to inform policies on chemical dispersant toxicity and environmental impact on marine life, including one by Greenpeace Analysis and Policy Observatory (APO) on the potential use and impact of Corexit 9500 near the Australian coasts’ offshore drilling sites.
LEAD SHOT BANS
In the Santa Fe province of Argentina, an international hot spot for duck hunting, more than 10 tons of lead gunshot are introduced into the environment every year. Our funded researchers showed lead from spent ammunition directly impairs waterfowl health, fitness and survival, with cascading implications for the entire ecosystem through impact on duck predators and scavengers. Their findings quickly informed new legislation that led lead shot bans in three major hunting provinces in Argentina aimed at improving the health and well-being of wildlife as well as the people who live there.
REDUCING DISEASE OUTBREAKS
Despite the availability of an effective vaccine, rabies remains a significant health problem for dogs and humans worldwide. The disease affects only mammals; in most cases, the virus is transmitted through a bite wound. Worldwide, some 55,000 human deaths and many more domestic animal deaths occur annually from rabies, making its management critically important.
Foundation-funded researchers conducted a population demographic study of owned, free-roaming dogs in a rabies-endemic area in South Africa. These data were then used to determine how many dogs should be immunized during annual vaccination campaigns to avoid rabies outbreaks, factoring in the highly fluctuating dog population within this community. Findings from this study show that a 70% vaccination coverage in dogs during annual vaccination campaigns will interrupt rabies transmission for up to 12 months and curb rabies outbreaks. These findings are included in the World Health Organization’s rabies policy documents.
WILD HORSE MANAGEMENT
Land management agencies have tried to reduce free-ranging wild horse herds by periodically rounding up animals to adopt out or sell. However, these efforts are expensive and have resulted in injuries to animals and humans. Foundation-funded researchers conducted a three-year research project evaluating a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) contraceptive vaccine to induce infertility in wild mares in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The team showed the vaccine was safe and did not affect breeding behavior or daily activity patterns. Treated mares showed a 50% reduction in foaling rate for two years. In later studies, booster shots were shown to further reduce foaling rates. Findings are included in The National Academies Press Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program.
THERE’S STILL MORE WORK TO BE DONE
So many species need our help today. We hope one day our work will help inform bans on bear bile farming, minimize livestock veterinary drug spillover into wildlife, establish conservation measures for a new elephant species and so much more.
To support these and other animal health studies – and the valuable missing pieces they provide to shape life-saving animal health policies – make your gift today.