16 September 2004
National Research Council
NRC Committee on National Needs for Research in Veterinary Science
The American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) is committed to advancing research in the area of zoo and wildlife medicine and welcomes your call for comment and participation in the NRC Committee on National Needs for Veterinary Science. The AAZV represents a wide array of veterinary specialists, including clinical veterinarians, epidemiologists, pathologists, conservation scientists, toxicologists, and specialists in ecosystem health. Members of the AAZV work in zoos, universities, non-profit organizations, and local, state, and federal agencies throughout the world.
One research area of critical importance to the AAZV now and in the foreseeable future is centered on the interaction between humans and animals. Our highest priority is the study of emerging diseases, especially zoonotic diseases and diseases at the interface between agriculture and wildlife. Certainly the initial and continuing involvement of zoo veterinarians in the West Nile virus outbreak testifies to the important role that the zoo community can play in the timely discovery and understanding of emerging diseases. Improving disease monitoring technology is a related goal, as are the growing disciplines of informatics and syndromics. The current world-wide zoo effort to develop a common medical recordkeeping system [the ZIMS (Zoologic Information Management System) project] is an example of our interest in developing collaborative solutions to current and future threats to the animals under our care and the adjacent human communities. Other emerging or continuing diseases of importance to AAZV include zoonoses like atypical mycobacteriosis and Johne’s disease, tuberculosis, and E. coli infections, as well as diseases affecting specific taxa or species, such as herpesvirus infection in elephants and chytridiomycosis in amphibians.
Ecosystem health is another priority of the AAZV. Again this involves the interaction between human and animal communities. Zoo veterinarians collaborate in multidisciplinary teams that include ecologists and toxicologists, as well as public policy experts, in order to understand how human activities affect ecosystems and all the inhabitants, including humans.
The conservation goals of the AAZV are also directed to other research areas. One such area is comparative reproduction, including assisted reproduction and contraception, which is an important focus for a few research centers. Successful reproduction has been achieved in many endangered species. Assisted reproduction and disease ecology studies, combined with habitat protection have been instrumental in the successful outcome of reintroduction programs. These programs continue to require considerable research efforts before animals can be released back into the wild.
Comparative pharmacology and nutrition are two additional important aspects for the health care of wildlife. Continued research in these areas is important to veterinarians treating rare and endangered species, both in zoos and in the wild. Research areas include the study of improved anesthetics, antimicrobials, and vaccines, as well as an improved understanding of stress, its effects, and its alleviation. Understanding how genetic impoverishment impacts disease resistance is another important research focus of endangered species’ programs.
Finally, there remains a paucity of epidemiologists, and funded epidemiologic studies, that are necessary as we strive to combine knowledge from the various disciplines working to improve animal, ecosystem, and ultimately human health.
Unfortunately, zoos are ill-equipped to tackle these ambitious goals, because of inadequate research support including equipment and personnel. Few zoos can afford to support research scientists and most zoo research programs are directed towards specific problems in their collections. The financial resources are limited and often divided into small grants that are insufficient to advance knowledge in any one research area. University, government, and foundation funding are rarely available to relieve these deficiencies. The lack of resources for long-term, trans-institutional collaborative studies of important problems facing zoos as a whole is especially acute. Furthermore, few veterinary scientists choose a career in zoological research because of the poor funding prospects.
Related to the lack of research support, the members of the AAZV sense that there is an inadequate public understanding nationwide of the important role veterinarians play in public health or the importance of research in protecting both animal and human health. In particular, zoo veterinarians are arguably the best equipped scientists to be leaders in the area of comparative medicine and pathology, but their expertise often goes unrecognized in their local and professional communities.
Certainly, the facilities available nationwide to conduct research in zoo and wildlife medicine are woefully inadequate. Zoos are generally “businesses” where laboratory space, “behind-the-scenes” holding, bio-secure quarantine space, and support personnel are rarely available. Most human resources involved in zoo research are only allowed part-time participation, if any, and specialized education and training programs, fellowships, and financial support for students are rare.
The AAZV is committed to developing better research resources throughout our community which will benefit zoo and wild animals, our members, and humankind. To this effect, we have recently reinvigorated our association’s research committee. We are anxious to help in any way possible and to contribute to the national discussion of our research priorities.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this current initiative.
AAZV Research Task Force
Dalen Agnew, DVM, Dipl ACVP (Chair, Information Resources Committee)
Linda Munson, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVP
Sharon Deem, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACZM (Chair, Infectious Disease Committee)
Nadine Lamberski, DVM, Dipl ACZM (Immediate Past President)
Joe Flanagan, DVM (President)
Wilbur Amand, VMD (Executive Director)