Research & Wildlife Health Surveillance

Disease surveillance

Over the last decade PAWS Wildlife Center has been involved in a number of disease surveillance efforts in collaboration with the state and local departments of health, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Washington Department of Agriculture, among other agencies.  Some include:

  • Brucellosis in marine mammal species.
  • West Nile Virus specifically in corvid (ie, crows) and raptor species.
  • Tularemia in rodents and rabbits.
  • Mycoplasma conjunctivitis in birds.
  • Bacterial pathogens in seabirds.

The need for disease surveillance

Wildlife species surround us, even in urban and suburban environments. As a result there is a continual interaction between wild animals, humans and domestic animals creating a dynamic in which the health of each, and that of the environment, is interconnected.

Today there is a much greater recognition of natural diseases—such as West Nile Virus and highly infectious strains of influenza—occurring globally than ever before. Of the more than 1,400 infectious diseases in humans, about two-thirds are due to pathogenic organisms that also infect many animal species, and over the past few decades about three-fourths of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic (able to be transmitted between animals and humans).

Diseases are likely to manifest more quickly in animal populations than in the human population. With this in mind, PAWS feels that it is part of our role as a wildlife center (as we feel it is for all centers and veterinarians), to be actively involved in monitoring patients for foreign/exotic and emerging infectious diseases. These illnesses in animals may serve as warnings for the emergence of pathogens that may also spread to humans whether intentionally through means of bio terrorism, or unintentionally through travel and commerce – the canary in the coal mine analogy.

Research projects (past and current)

We have also participated in various research projects with government agencies and academic institutions, particularly in regard to monitoring species population movement (radiotelemetry studies) and health issues. Some examples are:

  • Telemetry studies on Common Murres and other seabirds.  
  • Satellite transmitter placement on Pink-footed Shearwaters and Laysan Albatross, assisting an international non-profit called Oikonos.
  • Post-release monitoring of Black Bears who have undergone rehabilitation at PAWS.
  • Collecting data on birds exposed to pesticides for a project at the American Bird Conservancy.
  • Leptospirosis in Raccoons in Washington State.

If you find a dead bird should you bring it to PAWS?

Please do not bring dead birds to PAWS for necropsy or to diagnose the disease. PAWS is concerned about disease problems and wildlife populations and maintains a close association with local health related agencies including the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Health. However, we do not have the resources to pursue diagnostic testing for all the dead birds in the state.

You can report dead birds to the Washington State Department of Health.