Translocation risks revealed: Scientists develop techniques to avoid repeat of red squirrel catastrophe

Apr 27, 2012

Disastrous disease outbreaks like the one which led to the decimation of the red squirrel in Britain can now be avoided through the implementation of new preventive measures developed by UK scientists.

Researchers at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) looked at the disease risks associated with moving wild animals (translocation), and worked out the key required to predict the outcome of wild animals being moved around.

Translocations are being increasingly used to conserve species whose numbers have plummeted as a result of and other human factors. Climate change is likely to lead to the need for many more translocations to ensure animals are located in favourable habitat.

There are numerous historical examples of translocations introducing disease to . Following the accidental introduction of the rinderpest virus to Africa with translocated cattle in the 1890s the number of wildebeest in the Serengeti fell dramatically, leading to a subsequent fall in two important predator species - lion and hyena.

In the UK the introduction of the squirrelpox virus with the North American grey squirrel in the late 19th century caused fatal disease in , contributing to their mass decline.

At the planning stages of the proposed translocation of Eurasian cranes (Grus grus) from Germany to the UK, called The Great Crane Project, the researchers used their new analytical method to assess the risk of disease.

The research team investigated the parasites harboured by the source population of cranes in Germany, captive cranes held in the UK, and the existing small population of cranes present in the UK. From those investigations they identified 24 potential translocation hazards. The threat of these disease hazards, which included and avian influenza, was ranked.

By applying the kind of already used to estimate risks to humans from sources as diverse as , radioactivity and cancer, the team investigated the probability and magnitude of effects from the 24 disease hazards at all stages of the translocation route including those triggered by stressors such as capture, those induced by parasites brought into the UK and those by parasites harboured by native species at the destination. This analysis has guided careful disease risk planning and implementation throughout the Great Crane Project and contributed to its current success.

Lead author Tony Sainsbury said: "This project has demonstrated that we have a feasible method to assess the risks of disease to translocations before they take place, which is very important if we are to avoid a catastrophe like that which has virtually wiped out the red squirrel in the UK."

This new method of risk analysis is now used on all reintroduction programmes in Natural England's Species Recovery Programme. This approach is necessary whether the origin of the species are ex-situ populations destined for re-introductions, re-introduced populations or wild populations. This risk analysis process allows Natural England to adequately assess the impact of species recovery programmes on wild animal health and disease and to manage re-introduction programmes appropriately now and for any future re-introductions.

Tony Sainsbury said "The fundamental difficulties in analysing the risk of disease associated with translocation of are that knowledge of the number, identity and distribution of parasites and their ability to induce disease is limited and requires further research. In the meantime post-release health monitoring remains very important.

Explore further: Stanford researchers rethink 'natural' habitat for wildlife

More information: Their research is published online today (26.4.12) in the journal Conservation Biology.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New hope for the red squirrel

Oct 16, 2008

A number of red squirrels are immune to squirrelpox viral disease, which many believed would lead to the extinction of the species, scientists have discovered.

Study sheds new light on deadly squirrel pox virus

Jun 29, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Bird tables which bring red and grey squirrels into close contact could be contributing to the spread of the squirrel pox virus by creating a 'hotspot' for the disease.

National Zoo Welcomes Whooping Crane

Jul 05, 2011

After an 88-year-long hiatus North America's tallest bird, the statuesque whooping crane (Grus americana), is once again on exhibit at the Bird House at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park. An 11-yea ...

Unnatural disasters

Dec 23, 2011

Global wildlife is facing an unprecedented threat from natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, warn scientists in a paper published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Killer disease decimates UK frog populations

Oct 07, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Common frog (Rana temporaria) populations across the UK are suffering dramatic population crashes due to infection from the emerging disease Ranavirus, reveals research published in the Zoological Societ ...

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Apr 18, 2014

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.