Nature Conservation and Veterinary Problems: Issues and Options. With case studies of foot and mouth disease and classical swine fever.

Butter, M. E. & Prent, K., 2005, 70 p.

Research output: Working paperAcademic

  • Maureen E. Butter
  • K. Prent
Large herbivores in nature suffer from veterinary law In the Habitat Directive, Natura 2000, the EU aims at preservation, restoration and interconnection of large-scale nature reserves throughout the union. Such a network of interconnected wilderness will provide dearly needed space to large wild animals, many of which are declining or even in danger of extinction. A thousand years ago most of Europe was nature, providing space for aurochs, moose, wild horse, reindeer, wild boar, bear, wolf and lynx. What little areas remain, should be preserved. In nature restoration and preservation, large herbivores play a crucial role: they shape and maintain the landscape by selective grazing (deer, wisent), rooting the soil (wild boar) and dispersal of seeds, to name but a few ecological functions. Food availability, predators and naturally occurring diseases provide a check on herd size and keep populations healthy in the long run. Surrogate species In modern landscape restoration, surrogate species are employed by lack of wild ancestral species. Koniks and Heck cattle play the part of extinct wild horse and aurochs. Also hardened domestic species are used, like Scottish highlander, Icelandic pony and Soay sheep. Once released in a nature reserve, the animals quickly learn to fend for themselves, building up herds and thriving, where conditions allow. Also, wild species like wisent and Przewaltski horse are bred in zoos and reintroduced into their former ancestral grounds. Snake By interconnecting large areas by means of corridors, nature conservationists cherish the hope that a sufficiently large network of interbreeding populations will keep up genetic diversity. But there is a snake in this envisioned paradise recovered. The snake is called ‘veterinary law’. Veterinary authorities fear the role of wildlife in outbreaks of infectious animal diseases and often oppose establishment of corridors. Moreover, in case of an outbreak, veterinary authorities may require the killing of free-roaming herds in nature reserves. And veterinary law overrules Natura 2000. Even protected species on the verge of extinction may fall victim to this rule. Not only wild or half wild animals are to be killed, but also hundreds of thousands farm animals, even is there is an effective vaccine available. Vaccination is punished with loss of trade status and severe economic loss. Foot and Mouth Disease The Large Herbivore Foundation, a project set up by the World Wildlife Foundation, asked the Science Shop for Biology to explore the possibilities for a more nature-friendly veterinary policy. After reviewing the evidence on two very contagious infectious diseases, Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Classical Swine Fever (CSF), the Science Shop concluded that even with these two most feared diseases, a more nature friendly policy is possible, without compromising veterinary health. Most important international body is the OIE, the Organization for Animal Health. After the 2002 outbreak of FMD, the OIE amelioriated its strict non-vaccination policy in favor of the preservation of red list species, but the surrogate species and non-red list species still have to be exterminated in case of an outbreak. And there are huge financial and practical obstacles preventing the protection of wildlife. Wildlife more at risk As wildlife is more at risk from outbreaks among farm animals than to them, nature conservationists and veterinary authorities have a common interest in preventing mass outbreaks. It is recommended, that the nature conservationists support OIE’s long term eradication programme of the most threatening diseases. And they should take care to prevent direct contact of animals in nature reserves and corridors with farm animals, especially during outbreaks. In case of an outbreak among wildlife, a non-intervention policy is usually the best option. Mass vaccination or mass extermination is often unfeasible and will probably do more harm than good. In establishing the borders of nature reserves and the situation of corridors, it is recommended to take the risk of communicable diseases and the need for isolation into account. On the other hand, veterinary regulations need to be adapted in order to better protect populations of wild and half-wild animals.
Original languageDutch
Number of pages70
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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