Terra Kelly with a golden eagle after a health exam
The Center's programs are broad-based, supporting the activities of affiliated faculty in their own specific areas of interest. While WHC programs can be organized under a heading of teaching, research, or service, most programs include elements of all three. Over the past several years, the Center’s activities have expanded internationally and include the major programs and projects listed below. WHC program activities focus on solving problems in the following areas:
California Resources & Emerging Ecosystem Health Issues
Terrestrial research programs focus on bighorn sheep, mountain lions, elk, bison, the giant garter snake, the riparian brush rabbit, and the island fox, as well as various avian species such as the California condor and Island scrub-jay. The WHC maintains responsiveness to current emerging ecosystem health issues, such as toxoplasmosis in the southern sea otter, the diminishing quality of ecosystems along our coasts, West Nile virus, and avian influenza. These issues are at the forefront of the public’s concern for biosecurity and personal safety.
Approximately 75% of the emerging human infectious diseases are shared with animals. People play key roles in directly moving diseases locally, regionally, and globally and in modifying the environment in ways that drive the incidence, spread, and severity of diseases. There is an increasing need for competent veterinarians to help deal with zoonotic pathogens of importance to public health and environmental management, as well as infectious disease threats to wildlife and domestic animals. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of veterinary experts to address these new health problems. By fully integrating ecosystem health training into the veterinary curriculum, veterinarians will have the opportunity to provide an improved understanding of pathogen transmission, disease interactions, and roles of animals and the environment. This transdisciplinary ecosystem health approach promotes a more global, generational, and preventive approach to public health and the delivery of care services.
The Center has built its foundation for success in part by filling a much needed niche in the veterinary and research community in marine ecosystem health. Research activities in this area are supported through contracts and grants from state agencies, NIH, NSF, the US Marine Mammal Commission, NOAA, and others. Ongoing marine research at the WHC includes studies involving sea otters, river otters, leatherback turtles, elephant seals, harbor seals, sea lions, marine birds, salmon, and killer whales. Major discoveries have resulted from our studies using marine mammals as sentinels of coastal ecosystem health.
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network, established in 1994 and housed at the Wildlife Health Center, is the world leader in oiled wildlife response, operating through legislative mandate in California but often called upon to provide assistance nationally and internationally. In addition, PREDICT positions the WHC to prepare for a global public health response to pathogens of animal origin that may turn pandemic.