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  • Writer's pictureLuis A Mazariegos

October 2021 - Vaccines: Saving Endangered Species @ MPNR

Infectious diseases affect people, domestic animals and wildlife alike, with many pathogens being able to infect multiple species. Fifty years ago, following the wide-scale manufacture and use of antibiotics and vaccines, it seemed that the battle against infections was being won for the human population. Since then, however, there has been an increase in the emergence of, mostly viral, zoonotic diseases from wildlife, sometimes causing fatal outbreaks of epidemic proportions, as we have witnessed for the past 18 months. Concurrently, transmission of infectious disease from domestic dogs and cats to wild species has to be considered as an emerging threat for wildlife conservation. There is robust evidence of dogs as a source of important outbreaks of rabies and distemper in wild populations from Latin America, In addition, there are shared infectious agents between domestic cats and wild felids.

Nestled in a strategic corridor between the western (Chocó) and eastern slopes of the Colombian west Andes, the 3,500-hectare Mesenia-Paramillo nature reserve (MPNR) are located. Within the reserve's area of influence, some 200 families live in the near-by villages of La Mesenia, La Cristalina, La Floresta, El Cañon and Macanas. This translates, at the very least, into some 600 pet animals which are predominantly dogs. Mostly unvaccinated, these dogs roam freely throughout the area and sometimes wonder into the reserve as has been captured by camera traps, posing a threat of disease transmission to wildlife populations in the area.

Juan Camilo Cepeda, who is studying the endangered Leopardus tigrinus at the reserve, has started educating villagers on the diseases transmitted by dogs and cats, and their implication for human health and also the negative impact they can have on wildlife. Juan Camilo is a biologist with experience in the research, management and conservation of Neotropical mammals. He has been involved in carnivore monitoring programs at the high mountain ecosystems of the Central and Western Andes as well as community projects with school children. Using camera traps and spatially explicit hierarchical models, he is currently developing his master's thesis to understand the most influential ecological factors of the Andean Tiger Cat occupancy @ MPNR.

He has teamed-up with veterinarian Vanessa Ramirez, to provide cost-free vaccination of dogs with an hexavalent vaccine to prevent mortality and clinical signs caused by the Canine Distemper virus, Canine Adenovirus type 1 (hepatitis), Canine Adenovirus type 2, Canine Parvovirus, Canine Parainfluenza virus, Rabies Virus and prevent clinical signs, infections and urinary excretions caused by Leptospira interrogans and L. kirschneri. Some 22 doses were applied during July 2021 to dogs in the closest proximity to the reserve on a first-seen basis. Being able to reach some homes is no easy task and since some dogs are used as companions, they can only be found at night or on Sundays.

Historically, there has been mistrust of strangers in the area. Yet surprisingly, dog owners have been very pleased with this initiative and all families visited have agreed to get their dogs vaccinated. The Bioconservancy Foundation hopes to support and expand this project in the near future once funding can be secured.

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