July 2023 

Building Bridges Between Wildlife Biologists and Field Veterinarians 

Happy summer to Europe and beyond! Early June found me in Spain, attending the The Zoo and Wildlife Health Conference in Valencia with ~ 500 delegates. This event was partly sponsored by the BIWFC. The vast majority of attendees were veterinarians, with a healthy mixing of students, practitioners and academics.

My main job was to co-host, with Dr. Yedra Feltrer Rambaud (founder and vice-chair of the EAZA Reproductive Management Group), a four hour workshop on “Challenges with fertility control in the wild.” The aim of the workshop was to analyze criteria that should be used when we are asked, as professionals, to consider the use of fertility control to resolve human-wildlife conflicts. After Yedra’s talk on methods and products available for fertility control, we presented attendees with ten scenarios, each focused on a particular species and context. These included wildlife and free-living livestock, urban and rural contexts, and native and non-native species (including unicorns!). For each scenario, we assumed fertility control had been chosen to mitigate the problem posed by wildlife. Participants were asked to select 1-2 scenarios and prepare a work plan, to be later presented to other attendees, which listed the main considerations used to draw up this plan.

Twenty-one colleagues from 11 countries joined the workshop. We had many lively discussions, as groups launched themselves into their chosen scenarios. The last part of the workshop was dedicated to my short presentation on lessons learnt from several case studies and to a general discussion. The feedback was very positive and I believe we could replicate this event in many countries around the world. Indeed I am going to run a similar event for students of the Veterinary Medical School in Nottingham (UK) in October 2023.

The increased interest in this workshop shows the bridge between wildlife biologists and field veterinarians is growing stronger, as we are slowly starting to appreciate each other’s competencies and skills. For instance, during the workshop we discussed some of the oral contraceptives increasingly advocated to address wildlife impacts. The biologists pointed out the many advantages, at population level, of using these contraceptives, whilst the vets cautioned about the safety of multiple doses -which cannot be controlled in field conditions- and the possible long-term effects for individual animals. All valid points, coming from different but equally important perspectives.

At the conference in Valencia I also met Veronica Cowl, based at Chester Zoo, and Isabel Callealta, who designed and ran the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Reproductive Management, partly funded by the BIWFC. This free course proved incredibly successful, with more than 1000 subscribers. Dr Cowl will tell us more in the Fall BIWFC newsletter.

Some extra news: in July I am going to talk about human-wildlife conflicts and fertility control to international post-graduate students that will visit the University of York. This is an excellent opportunity to “sow some seeds of knowledge” in this area for future professionals. At the end of August the BIWFC will attend the XIII European Vertebrate Pest Management Conference, with a very full program: we will have a plenary talk, followed by six oral presentations and a discussion panel.

Good news also on the oral contraceptive side: a new project on developing oral contraceptives for wild boar has just started, led by the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale Lazio e Toscana, in collaboration with the universities of York (UK), Milan and Pisa (Italy), and with the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins (US). Although this is a pilot study, we have ambitious goals that hopefully will lay the basis for long-term research into one of the most urgent topics for wildlife fertility control.

Last but not least: we welcome to the BIWFC family a new Program Assistant, Claudia Milani-Santarpia Vargas, based at the University of York. Claudia will be with us this summer and her main focus will be to identify and contact organizations and individuals interested in applications of fertility control in Europe, in preparation for an international workshop on this topic to be held in York on 17-18 of June 2024. More on this event in the fall Newsletter, but save the date and I hope to see you in York next year!

Dr. Giovanna Massei
July 2023