Taking on wildlife disease

  • February 12, 2020
  • News

The Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program, a collaboration between the School of Veterinary Medicine and the Pennsylvania Game Commission, will leverage Penn Vet’s expertise to address wildlife health problems.

When wildlife biologist Matthew Schnupp began his career, the emphasis was on conserving habitat.

“The paradigm of wildlife management for the last 20 years has been habitat management,” he says, aiming to conserve the land and ecosystems animals require to thrive.

And while protecting habitat in the face of an expanding human population remains a critical priority, he sees a new paradigm emerging as infections like chronic wasting disease, white-nose syndrome, and West Nile virus take a toll on animals and the people who value them.

“I would venture to say that, in the next 20 to 30 years, the new model for management will be ensuring the resiliency of wildlife populations through wildlife health issues,” says Schnupp, director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s (PGC) Wildlife Management Bureau.

That’s where Penn’s animal health expertise comes in.

In a new partnership, the School of Veterinary Medicine and the PGC have united to support a common cause: protecting the health of wildlife populations across the state. The Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program, established last year with $10 million in seed funding over five years from the PGC, charts a way forward for wildlife professionals who aim to safeguard animals from health threats—a goal that has knock-on benefits for humans and domestic animals as well. Co-led by Penn Vet’s Julie Ellis, an ecologist, and Lisa Murphy, a veterinarian and toxicologist, together with Schnupp, the program enables the School to hire new staff dedicated to wildlife health who will work with PGC employees to monitor disease threats, develop research projects, enhance communication and public engagement around wildlife health issues, and respond to challenges as they arise.

Read more from Katherine Unger Baillie with Penn Today here.