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2013 Research Status Amphibians

Understanding viruses in reptiles and amphibians

A number of infectious diseases have long been known to play a role in the health of both wild and captive amphibians and reptiles. In amphibians, they are even partially responsible for the global amphibian declines. Of these, ranaviruses are particularly concerning because of their ability to infect a wide range of hosts, including fish, amphibians, and reptiles. In recent years, ranaviruses have increasingly been detected in reptilian hosts. The relationships between amphibian and reptilian ranaviruses and the risk that these viruses pose for each group is not yet understood. This project is studying the relationships between ranaviruses from amphibians and reptiles based on genomic sequences to help us understand where these viruses come from, what animals they can infect and what effect they might have on different animals.

Rachel and her assistants have been studying ranaviruses from frogs, salamanders, tortoises, lizards, and snakes based on sequences from various parts of their genomes. The research so far indicates that these viruses are not species specific and can be transmitted between hosts of different animal classes, and that both amphibians and reptiles may therefore play a role in the epidemiology of these viruses.

Coaching and sampling are key roles to positive outcomes

Nepal has a captive population of elephants numbering approximately 200 animals. Some of these animals work in tourism, providing the very popular tropical jungle rides, but many of them serve in the nation’s wildlife management sector by providing transportation to rangers patrolling for poachers, helping conservation officials to capture and translocate endangered one-horned rhinos and other important conservation and forestry management programs. In order to more sustainably support activities involving trained elephants, the government and local conservation organizations established a breeding facility on the edge of one of their best known national Parks – Chitwan National Park. The female elephants in this facility have been successfully breeding with bulls, most frequently with wild local elephant bulls, and producing young elephants, including a set of twins several years ago. This breeding herd needs to be montored to ensure an invasion of the herpesvirus.  

Gretchen and her global team gathered blood samples, performed trunk washes, collected nasal secretions and swabbed conjunctivals over the summer from elephants in Chitwan and processed samples in the CMDN lab in Kathmandu.  Through these techniques and analysis, in-country training was delivered and the management of monitoring will minimize the disease risk in this breeding herd.  In addition, this research will contribute to the overall understanding of herpesviruses in elephants in their natural range.  Photo, courtesy of Emily Picciotto.



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