Wildlife Diseases & Habitat Quality

There is a strong correlation between wildlife diseases and their habitats. Today we’ll discuss those diseases and how what’s surrounding them can contribute. More importantly, we’ll also go over diseases that can be passed to us humans and what we can do to prevent them.

animal animal photography antler blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Before we get started, here are some concepts to keep in mind:

  1. Outbreaks of infectious diseases are often signs of habitat problems. As human activity eliminates wildlife habitat, animal populations become more concentrated, animals can then come into contact more often and spread disease! E.g., spread of rabies
  2. Some disease problems are caused by human activity
    • Wildlife can catch diseases from livestock or pets
      • E.g., brucellosis (abortion disease) and lungworm
    • Pollution of the environment (e.g., chemical runoff)
    • Transplanting (stocking) wildlife from other regions can introduce diseases as can “liberated” exotic pets
  3. Wildlife diseases that can affect human health are of special importance to a wildlife manager!
    • Rabies: Caused by a virus found in the saliva of an infected animal – usually transmitted by biting, but not always!
      • All mammals are susceptible!
      • Infected animals may become “furious” or “dumb” and may shed virus 1-3 days BEFORE showing signs of the disease!
      • If an animals doesn’t act like you expect it to – be cautious! Always wear gloves when working with animals – live or dead!
    • Histoplasmosis: An infectious disease cause by inhaling the spores of a fungus (Histoplasma capsulatum). It is not contagious, however it CAN be transmitted from an infected person or animal to someone else.
    • Hantavirus: A virus that is carried by rodents (e.g., deer mice) and passed on to humans through infected rodent urine, saliva, or droppings. Virus can cause serious, often deadly, respiratory disease. Breathing in the virus is the most common way of getting infected; however you can also become infected after touching the mouth or nose after handing contaminated materials.
    • Lyme disease: Bacterial infection typically transmitted through the bite of a tick. First stage of disease is usually indicated by a bulls-eye skin rash, radiating out from site of bite. Other tick diseases include: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichia, etc. All these diseases if not treated early can cause LONG TERM damage to your joints, heart, and brain.
male bugs illness disease
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What can wildlife managers do to help control tick-borne diseases?

  1. Fall or winter burning – Female ticks overwinter in leaf litter (no they don’t die in winter and miraculously appear in spring)
  2. Open understory to dry area out – Ticks must maintain a proper water balance or they will die
    • E.g., mow campground/picnic areas

Tick disease in humans is on the rise. While we are more confronted with these issues when you take your pets to the veterinarian, theres no tick prevention for humans like there are for our four legged friends. For more information on these serious diseases, click on this link for a PDF from the CDC about tick distribution and descriptions. Keep in mind, some of the info is from 2015 and the ranges have greatly spread. Remember, a simple blood test is all you need to check and save yourself harmful damage if left untreated!

Click to access TickborneDiseases.pdf

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