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AZA Veterinary Advisory Group

Information by Julia E. Napier, DVM

The concept of the Veterinary Advisory Group (VAG) originated with the Infectious Disease Committee of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) and the Conservation and Science Department of AZA (formerly AAZPA) in 1993. The need for such a group was highlighted at the 1992 International Conference on Implications of Infectious Diseases for Captive Propagation and Reintroduction Programs of Threatened Species. This meeting, held in Oakland, California, was sponsored by AZA, AAZV, and the Captive Breeding Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission (CBSG/IUCN/SSC). It emphasized the impact of disease on reintroduction projects and highlighted the importance of risk assessment. A general lack of information on 1) incidence, distribution and risks of disease in captive and wild populations, 2) effective quarantine protocols necessary to prevent disease transmission, and 3) definitive diagnostic tests to detect and monitor disease has resulted in the lack of a working database for informed risk assessment. The notion of a Veterinary Advisor to each SSP/TAG program was put forward as a way to generate and collect this missing information. 

Administratively, The VAG is a subcommittee of AZA's Animal Health Committee (AHC) and was established with 3 main goals in mind:

1) To act as a support and advisory body for SSP/TAG Veterinary Advisors;
2)To act as a source of information for protocols concerning the roles and responsibilities of Veterinary Advisors; and
3)To serve as an informational resource on veterinary issues that may impact conservation programs.

Currently, the committee is composed of all SSP/TAG Veterinary Advisors (which includes clinicians and pathologists).

The VAG Chair is appointed by the Chair of the Animal Health Committee.

The original "Guidelines for Veterinary Advisors to Regional Conservation Plans" was submitted to WCMC and accepted in 1993. These were revised in 1994 and again in 2001.

The benefits of these guidelines are two-fold: 1) they offer the SSP Coordinator a reasonable expectation of the role of a Veterinary Advisor, and 2) they offer the Veterinary Advisor an outline of basic standards that should be met. Clearly, the exact role and responsibilities of the Veterinary Advisor will differ among the various SSP/TAG programs.

The list of SSP/TAG Veterinary Advisors is maintained by the VAG Chair and is updated as necessary. This list is posted on the AAZV web site. The AAZV site was chosen to encourage use by zoo veterinarians. In addition to the list of advisors, SSP/TAG veterinary protocols are posted as they become available.

Date #SSPs/#Veterinary Advisors #TAGs/#Veterinary Advisors Total Programs/Total Advisors
1994 69/56 (82%) 41/26 (63%) 110/82 (75%)
2001 97/52 (54%) 46/29 (63%) 143/81 (57%)
2002 97/60 (62%) 46/31 (67%) 143/91 (64%)

The number of Veterinary Advisors for 2002 represent only those reported to the VAG Chair. The actual number of advisors may be higher.

During the 1994, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2002 AAZV Annual Conferences, SSP/TAG Veterinary Advisor meetings and/or reporting sessions were held. These meetings and reports were intended to provide the timely dissemination of new information.

In addition to the meetings at the 2001 AAZV conference, Veterinary Advisors were encouraged to participate in a Disease Risk Assessment Workshop. This CBSG workshop provided working group based training and beta testing of tools designed to assess risk associated with animal translocations, reintroductions, rehabilitations and other types of animal introductions to populations. The tools used included 1) a workbook for data collection and production of a usable database for assessing disease risk; 2) a pencil and paper approach to structured decision tree analysis; 3) computer based decision tree analysis; and 4) computer based systems modeling for predicting disease impact.

Objectives for the coming year include:

  • Increase the VAG information available on the AAZV web site,
  • Develop preshipment testing protocols, and
  • Develop a reporting form to simplify the annual reporting process for Veterinary Advisors

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