Wildlife are increasingly recognised as the source of emerging diseases with potential impact on biodiversity, livestock health/trade and human health. The key to early detection of emerging diseases is surveillance, and an integrated system for reporting and data capture.
Australia has a national system for wildlife disease surveillance co-ordinated by Wildlife Health Australia (WHA), the peak body for wildlife health nationally. The system consists of WHA Coordinators based in government agencies in each State/Territory, surveillance programs based around zoo and sentinel wildlife hospitals, and focus groups (Universities, Zoo Animal Health Reference Group, Bat Health Focus Group). Targeted surveillance programs are in place for significant diseases such as avian influenza in wild birds and Australian bat lyssavirus.
National collation of wildlife disease data occurs in the electronic Wildlife Health Information System (eWHIS), a central web-enabled database. Information is used to identify significant disease events in wildlife, to inform decisions during disease events and outbreaks, for national and international reporting, and to assist decision-making by policy-makers.
WHA is currently scoping the expansion of the national wildlife disease surveillance program to formally integrate contributions from Australian universities. WHA has coordinated a Universities Focus Group since 2008, facilitating coordination and communication within and between universities and government. As a means to continue developments in the area, WHA has recently progressed investigations to quantify the potential wildlife disease surveillance contributions from Australian universities. The initial priority is to assess wildlife disease information generated by university veterinary clinics and/or pathology departments. It is envisaged that this will facilitate WHA’s development of a tailored surveillance program to complement and enhance the existing national wildlife disease surveillance capacity.
Other sources of information for future consideration for integration into the national wildlife disease surveillance system include private veterinary practices and wildlife rehabilitation groups.