The Crucial Contribution of Veterinarians to Conservation Biology

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Conservation biology is a relatively new (began in the 1980s), value-based discipline predicated on the belief that biological diversity—from genes to populations to species to communities to ecosystems—is good and extinction is bad. Conservation biology grew from the recognition that the Earth has entered its sixth great extinction event, one that differs from previous great extinctions in that a single species—Homo sapiens—has caused this biodiversity crisis. A diverse, interacting set of variables drive current extinctions. As such, to succeed, conservation efforts usually require broad-based, interdisciplinary approaches. Conservationists increasingly recognize the importance of contributions by veterinary science, among many other disciplines, to collaborative efforts aimed at stemming the loss of biodiversity.

We argue that, to improve success rates, many wildlife conservation programs must incorporate veterinarians as part of an interdisciplinary team to assess and address problems. Ideally, veterinarians who participate in conservation would receive specialized training and be willing to work as partners as part of a larger team of experts who effectively integrate their work rather than work independently (i.e., work as interdisciplinary, as opposed to multidisciplinary, teams, respectively). In our opinion, the most successful and productive projects involve interdisciplinary teams involving both biological and nonbiological specialists. Some researchers hold multiple degrees in biology and veterinary medicine or the biological and social sciences. These experts can often offer unique insight.

We see at least 3 major areas in which veterinarians can immediately offer great assistance to conservation efforts: (1) participation in wildlife capture and immobilization, (2) leadership or assistance in addressing wildlife health issues, and (3) leadership or assistance in addressing wildlife disease issues, including using wildlife as sentinels to identify new and emerging diseases or epidemics of old diseases. We cover each of these main topics in detail.

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