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August 20, 2019 – Climate change. Habitat destruction. Pollution. Poaching. The planet’s wildlife species are coming under ever-increasing threats due to many factors. But often overlooked are threats to wildlife from diseases both old and new.

Disease threats can include known illnesses that affect new species, such as canine distemper in Amur tigers. Or they could represent new diseases that spread quickly through a vulnerable population, such as the emergence of devil facial tumor disease. Loss through disease can decimate a population in a short amount of time and, if a species is already threatened, loss to disease can compound an already desperate situation.

Morris Animal Foundation has long recognized the danger posed by disease on wildlife. Our efforts to save the San Joaquin kit foxes, iconic Darwin’s finches and Javan rhinos are just a few examples that showcase our commitment to saving wild animals from health threats around the world.

Javan Rhino

Elusive and critically endangered, there are between 58 and 68 Javan rhinos left worldwide, making it the rarest large mammal on Earth. The last remaining individuals reside in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia, where they’re under attack from a new enemy – hemorrhagic septicemia, a highly fatal infection transmitted by flies.

Morris Animal Foundation is working with researchers, wildlife managers and local villagers to save this fragile population. The good news is that early study results expanded knowledge about the disease and, coupled with education programs, led to government-sponsored free vaccinations for livestock, an important source of infection. The research team is now focusing their efforts on understanding more about the flies that transmit the disease as another way of combating disease spread. The struggle isn’t over yet, but the population, while small, has stabilized.

San Joaquin Kit Fox

With its large ears and brown, bushy tail, the San Joaquin kit fox is an adorable member of the canine family. Unfortunately, habitat loss has greatly reduced the numbers of this once common species. In spring 2013, a new threat was detected – sarcoptic mange, a common disease of domestic dogs. Sarcoptic mange can have devastating effects on wild species and in endangered populations, such as the San Joaquin kit fox, it can push a species even closer to extinction.

Morris Animal Foundation stepped in to help researchers learn more about transmission of sarcoptic mange in order to stop this highly contagious disease and save the foxes. By learning about the dynamics of disease transmission through an initial grant, our funded researchers moved on to leverage their findings toward an effective treatment strategy. The treatment study is still in progress, but researchers are making headway on decreasing disease transmission. In addition, the team was able to include outreach to members of the public about sarcoptic mange and kit foxes in general. It’s still early, but with Foundation funding the future for the San Joaquin kit fox is looking brighter.

Darwin’s Finches

A recently approved study focuses on one of the most famous bird species in the world – Darwin’s finches. Finches were the birds studied by Charles Darwin on his famous voyage to the Galapagos Islands, a trip that would inform his theory of evolution. Unfortunately, these birds could become another footnote in history due to the destructive parasitic nest fly Philornis downsi.

P. downsi was accidentally introduced to the Galapagos Islands, where it has caused population declines in several bird species including endangered species of Darwin’s finches. The newly approved study proposes to study whether the use of wasps that are the natural predators of P. downsi pupa might provide a biologically safe and sustainable solution without endangering other species on the islands. This innovative approach could serve as a template for similar interventional strategies. The Foundation is proud to be part of this groundbreaking study.

Morris Animal Foundation has a rich history of stepping in when disease threatens the animals we love, whether that’s the dog on your couch or a tiny finch on a remote island off the coast of South America. Endangered species represent an especially dire population needing our help. Learn more about our work with wildlife and what you can do to help save all animal species and advance the health and well-being of animals everywhere.