Marked declines in biodiversity are leading to ambitious interventions for wildlife conservation, such as reintroductions. Reintroductions have had relatively low success rates to date, and further research into their limitations, methodology and management is needed in order to improve conservation outcomes. Disease hazards are one of the constraints on successful reintroduction. Guidelines for disease risk assessment (DRA), and health management, for reintroduction of specific taxonomic groups would be beneficial, to build on existing, overarching guidelines. This PhD project (2014–2020) is using two UK reintroduction projects – for the Eurasian crane (Grus grus) and corncrake (Crex crex) – as case studies by which to review, and further develop, DRA and health management strategies for avian reintroduction.
The project comprises:
1. A literature review, to identify the DRA methods employed for avian reintroduction projects to date and the types of disease encountered;
2. Risk factor analyses, to determine whether husbandry and bird-related risk factors have affected a) the survival of corncrake chicks to the point of release, and b) the incidence of specific non-infectious disease conditions (in corncrakes and cranes);
3. A retrospective critical review of the DRA conducted for crane reintroduction, to determine whether, and how, DRA strategy might be improved;
4. In light of the above results, the development of avian-specific DRA and health management guidelines for reintroductions.
Preliminary results show that both infectious and non-infectious disease conditions have been significant threats in both crane and corncrake reintroduction pathways. Husbandry modifications were required during the course of both projects to reduce the prevalence of non-infectious diseases. Strict biosecurity protocols and prophylactic medication successfully prevented infectious disease outbreaks during captive rearing for crane reintroduction. Disease threats (including those related to husbandry) need to be factored into project planning at an early stage, in order to maximise animal health, welfare, and reintroduction success.