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: Seals forage at offshore wind farms

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

Seals forage at offshore wind farms

16 hours ago

By using sophisticated GPS tracking to monitor seals' every movement, researchers have shown for the first time that some individuals are repeatedly drawn to offshore wind farms and pipelines. Those man-made ...

Study provides insights into birds' migration routes

18 hours ago

By tracking hybrids between songbird species, investigators have found that migration routes are under genetic control and could be preventing interbreeding. The research, which is published in Ecology Le ...

Technology tracks the elusive Nightjar

20 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Bioacoustic recorders could provide us with vital additional information to help us protect rare and endangered birds such as the European nightjar, new research has shown.

User comments : 0