Understanding our connection to the environment and the animals within it can help us all to appreciate the need to take good care of our world.
Conservation medicine does just that. It focuses on the connections between human, animal and environmental health, which often involves collaborating with many different experts to help solve disease-related problems.
Auckland Zoo's New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine (NZCCM), the first national centre of its kind in the world, is home to a highly skilled and passionate veterinary team who take a conservation medicine approach to everything they do.
As well as providing best practice veterinary services to all our Zoo animals, our NZCCM plays a key role in the conservation of New Zealand's native animals.
The NZCCM provides health screening and quarantine services for native species being relocated around New Zealand. It's a wildlife referral centre for sick and injured animals, treating everything from kiwi, tuatara, fur seals to takahe and kakapo. The supplier of vet services for the Department of Conservation's (DOC) kakapo recovery programme, our vets have helped to develop and oversee the implementation of health protocols to ensure the successful hand-rearing of chicks during busy breeding seasons on Codfish (Whenua Hou) Island.
In an effort to better understand and improve our wildlife health, the NZCCM manages an online National Wildlife Health Database for DOC that is facilitating the sharing of wildlife disease testing results. This includes monitoring the data to detect any new diseases so that if required, action can be taken to protect wildlife.
NZCCM vet, Dr Richard Jakob-Hoff, is currently working with conservation partners on a pilot project to establish ecosystem health maps of sanctuary islands, Tiritiri Matangi and Hauturu (Little Barrier).
"Our goal is to minimise disease impacts on the animal populations already on these islands, as well as risks associated with animal translocations. We also want to improve the productivity and resilience of these wildlife species. Ultimately, we'd love to establish a successful model that can be applied to other restoration sites in New Zealand, and even overseas," says Richard.
A major project to come out of this broader one is a research project on the health and disease of kakariki on Tiritiri Matangi Island. Project leader, NZCCM veterinary resident, Dr Bethany Jackson, will be working to find out if Beak and Feather Disease Virus (BFDV) is present in these birds, and what the implications are for conservation management.
"Since 2004 there's been anecdotal evidence of feathering disorders that's highly suggestive of BFDV infection in Tiri's kakariki population, but not enough testing has been conducted, so this study is quite critical. It's also hoped to assist in guiding the conservation and management of the critically endangered kakapo and orange-fronted parakeet, which, as parrot species, are also susceptible to BFDV," says Bethany.
This project will draw on the skills of staff across the Zoo to help with field work, and will also provide opportunities for Zoo staff and conservation agencies such as DOC and Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi to work alongside each other.
With its growing international reputation, the NZCCM acts as an important teaching facility and as a hub for facilitating international collaboration and research.
In February 2011, it hosted Australasia's first ever combined Wildlife Forensics workshop and symposium. It attracted experts from as far afield as the United States and England, and facilitated the pooling of expertise to further wildlife forensics and CSI skills - and ultimately, to help conserve wildlife species.