Wild Ungulate Health Surveillance in Central Asia

Principal Investigator: Martin Gilbert

Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences
Sponsor: Wild Sheep Foundation
Grant Number: 2021-69
Title: Wild Ungulate Health Surveillance in Central Asia
Project Amount: $30,000
Project Period: January 2021 to December 2021

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): 

Outbreaks of infectious disease represent an important threat to maintaining viable herds of wild sheep and goats in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in Central Asia. Due to their numerical dominance in the region, domestic livestock herds represent the most plausible epidemiological source of disease outbreaks in wildlife, and are therefore the only logical target for management interventions. However, rational design of veterinary support programs requires an understanding of the pathogens that represent the greatest threat to wild populations. Our project seeks to address this by introducing a program of pathogen surveillance focused on argali and Siberian ibex in Kyrgyzstan. Our approach uses blood samples collected during managed trophy hunts, which are then tested by us in a national veterinary laboratory for the presence of antibodies to key pathogens indicating previous infections within the population. Over time, this strategy is enabling us to: 1) identify the pathogens that represent the greatest risk to wild ungulates, 2) determine geographical areas where disease exposure is most intense, and 3) assess temporal trends in pathogen circulation. The results of this surveillance program are helping to inform our complementary projects, which focus on assessing the health of livestock and designing veterinary interventions to reduce the threat of pathogen spillover for wild ungulate herds.

This project represents a continuation and expansion of work initiated with support from the Grant-in-Aid program in 2018. We are proposing a further year of sample collection during the 2021 hunting season, which will be analyzed along with existing samples from 2019 and anticipated collections from 2020. Once analyzed, we intend to prepare a publication summarizing findings from the first five years of surveillance data that will include recommendations for continuation and expansion of the program. In addition, we propose an exploratory visit to Kazakhstan to meet with regional partners to discuss opportunities for a future transboundary initiative, the Central Asian Wildlife Health Network, to coordinate wild ungulate health programs across the region.