Maasai - Guardians of the Range (In Pictures)

Photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher explore Maasai ways of life with Survival International in this beautiful gallery.  Focusing on northern Tanzania and Kenya (Maassailand) the gallery reflects the challenges of preserving pastoral livelihoods in East Africa.

 The Maasai are one of many pastoralist groups raising livestock on extensive grazing lands in East Africa.  For generations pastoralist groups were subjected to policies and plans calling for settlement and a transition to intensive livestock production based on modern ranching.  Once considered inefficient, uneconomical, and ecologically destructive, pastoralism as a livelihood is increasingly viewed as compatible with rangeland management, and an option for preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services in savannah and arid landscapes.  

Transient

HALI has been working with the Maasai, Barabaig, and Sukuma pastoralist communities in the Ruaha Ecosystem, where Africa's acacia savannas meet the southern miombo woodlands.  There pastoralists still graze their animals in open ranges, often through complex land use agreements with local village councils and community forest organizations.  With meat demand rising in Africa and the Middle East, pastoral livestock production represents a viable economic and pro-poor development strategy, an opportunity that may strengthen some traditional aspects of pastoral culture and reverse long-standing pressures for settlement.  A new modernized pastoralism could emerge, as pastoralists continue to adapt to their surroundings, a major factor in their resilience in areas increasingly impacted by climate variability.  

Transient

As proof of this versatility, some pastoralists in the Ruaha area are now working with groups like Lion Guardians and the Ruaha Conservation Project to adapt long standing traditions to enhance conservation and livelihood improvement, strengthening the perception of pastoralists as guardians of the range and political advocates, a force recognized this fall when long-standing plans to evict Maasai from traditional lands to establish a hunting concession were overturned by the Tanzanian Prime Minister.

Transient

In Ruaha, HALI is working with pastoralist communities like the Maasai to better understand and enhance health for the people and the animals and environment they depend on.  This participatory "one health" approach uses research for development, working with pastoralists at the household, pastoralist council, and district levels to identify appropriate solutions supporting the preservation of traditional livelihoods as they adapt to the changing world around them.

Maasai girls attend the e-unoto ceremony.

Maasai girls attend the e-unoto ceremony.

All pictures by  © Beckwith & Fisher via Survival International

I want my mummy!

It's Halloween and we all want our mummies.  Thankfully Nick Brandt comes to the rescue with some amazingly appropriate content.  

Our PREDICT team especially likes this mummified fruit bat.

Our PREDICT team especially likes this mummified fruit bat.

In northern Tanzania, Lake Natron beckons wild birds and bats to their deaths by using the lakes reflective surface as a visual attractant.  The animals crash into the lake's surface and the water's chemical content, extremely high in soda and salts, calcifies their carcasses, preserving them as they wash ashore.

Nick, a talented photographer,  walked the shores of Lake Natron collecting the carcasses and then posed them in the landscape as if they were brought back to life; the Evil Dead, or more realistically, dead souls come to haunt the living or spirits warning us about the Lake's dark powers.

Check out more of Nick's work in his new book Across the Ravaged Land... 

Images by ©Nick Brandt via Gizmodo. 

HALI founder Jonna Mazet inducted into the Institute of Medicine

Jonna Mazet assisting Ruaha National Park and Sokoine University of Agriculture veterinarians with a giraffe immobilization.  Dr. Mazet has been integrating animal, environmental and human health in projects like HALI throughout the world,  building global foundations for One Health research and practice.

Jonna Mazet assisting Ruaha National Park and Sokoine University of Agriculture veterinarians with a giraffe immobilization.  Dr. Mazet has been integrating animal, environmental and human health in projects like HALI throughout the world,  building global foundations for One Health research and practice.

- David Wolking

Dr. Jonna Mazet, HALI project co-founder, was inducted into the prestigious Institute of Medicine this month, part of the National Academy of Sciences.  Dr. Mazet is one of the pioneers of the One Health approach, a philosophy recognizing that human animal and environmental health are inextricably linked.  Dr. Mazet has utilized this approach to tackle global health challenges.

"I feel like I’m being honored for a body of work that is only possible because I’ve been lucky to work with an amazing team.  We can only begin to solve global problems by working effectively together across disciplinary, geographic and political boundaries."

In addition to her work directing the HALI project, Dr. Mazet is also the global director of the $75 million program PREDICT project, part of USAID's Emerging Pandemic Threats program.  With PREDICT, she has brought together an interdisciplinary team of experts build a global early warning system for emerging diseases that move between wildlife and people, such as HIV, Ebola and SARS. Through her leadership on PREDICT, she has expanded the One Health workforce by more than 2,500 people and discovered 250 viruses known to cause epidemics.  She has been instrumental in supporting HALI's initiatives to implement PREDICT in Tanzania, where our team continues to make progress towards improving wildlife disease surveillance and building the diagnostic capacity required for viral detection and discovery. 

In addition to her work on PREDICT, Dr. Mazet is the director of the UC Davis One Health Institute and Wildlife Health Center, innovative centers of excellence in health research whose accomplishments include diagnosis of novel infections, understanding and tracking pathogen pollution from victims to source, and supporting the conservation of endangered species, from mountain gorillas in Rwanda to sea otters in California. At UC Davis, Mazet also founded California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network, the world’s premier model for wildlife emergency health response.

As a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine, Mazet mentors veterinary and graduate students and postdoctoral trainees, and provides service to government agencies and the public regarding emerging infectious disease and conservation challenges.

Among her accomplishments, Mazet received the International Wildlife Disease Association and American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians Joint Thorne Williams Award for most significant contribution to the field of wildlife health in 2011. She also received the 2012 Outstanding Alumna Award from UC Davis, where she earned all of her higher education degrees and has spent the bulk of her 19-year career.

Dr. Jonna Mazet, at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, talks about how wildlife, such as seals and sea otters, tug at our heartstrings and may offer an early warning system for identifying environmental changes.

The HALI project acknowledges the UC Davis News and Information network where portions of this article originally appeared. 

 

Interested in learning more about One Health, the WIldlife Health Center, and how Dr. Mazet's projects are impacting health and livelihoods across the world?  Contact us at the HALI project. 

Want to help Dr. Mazet continue supporting health and livelihoods worldwide, or continue to support the health and conservation of wildlife from California mountain lions to mountain gorillas?   Consider a donation to the One Health Institute or Wildlife Health Center.

 

The March for Elephants

- Alphonce Msigwa* and David Wolking

Could we live in a world without elephants?  That might be an easier question to answer if elephants are not part of your life, your landscape, or your culture.  But in Tanzania and throughout Africa, elephants (tembo or ndovu in Kiswahli) are very much part of day-to-day life.  Ecological engineers, they prune our forests, disperse seeds and plant trees, blaze trails and make firebreaks, occasionally eat from our gardens, and grace the labels of our favorite beers.  But a world without elephants may soon become a reality without change, change that the Wildlife Connection and other conservation groups are working to achieve.

Wildlife Connection is a non-governmental organization in Pawaga and Idodi Divisions in Iringa Rural District. On 4 October 2013, the NGO organized the local event for the March for Elephants campaign in Iringa town to show their compassion for elephants and opposition to the enormous killing and destruction of elephants in Southern Tanzania’s protected areas, including Ruaha National Park and MBOMIPA Wildlife Management Area. Many stakeholders were invited to this special event in Iringa, and as part of the campaign, 40 other big cities around the world held similar marches.

The HALI project was invited  to the march, as one of the stakeholders dealing with health for animals, both domestic and wild. Project Coordinator, Dr. Goodluck Paul and other staff including Asha Makweta, Elizabeth Komba and Amani Zacharia joined other stakeholders from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Udzungwa Elephant Project (UEP), Southern Tanzania Protected Area Network (SPANEST), Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB), Tanzania Association for Tour Operators (TATO) and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) to fight against the brutality against elephants.

Some statistics, shared by the guest of honor, Shadow Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Mr. Peter Msigwa show that elephant poaching is a big threat to these animals, and is responsible for a massive decrease in elephants numbers from 2,000,000 in 1971 to 130,000 today, with major social, ecological and economic impacts. In a nutshell, a total of 33,000 elephants were killed from 2010 to 2013 in Tanzania, and if this rate of poaching increases or is sustained, in seven years elephants will be locally extinct in Tanzania, a disaster to the country economy, which depends heavily on wildlife and safari tourism and a devastating blow to our culture which has shared this landscape with elephants since the dawn of human history.

These statistics puzzled the HALI staff and our team is now working to prepare posters and work to raise awareness of these issues, and to share their concerns about elephants and wildlife, their health, ecology, and survival. 

*Alphonce Msigwa is a wildlife professional, journalist and conservation enthusiast working with the HALI project on the USAID-funded Feed the Future Livestock Innovation Lab Collaborative Research Support Program project.  He has published over 30 articles in Tanzania wildlife magazines and journals, and looks forward to contributing more to the HALI blog, especially on livelihood and conservation issues. 

 

To learn more about the March for Elephants, visit their main site here. 

To learn more about elephant poaching and threats to elephant conservation, visit the 96 Elephants Campaign.

To help protect elephants and conserve vital elephant habitat in the Ruaha ecosystem and surrounding areas, consider a donation to the Wildlife Connection.

Trains in Tanzania

A train station in Tanzania where the PREDICT team is sampling bats to learn more about potential diseases that can move animals and people.

-David Wolking

A few years ago we brought cameras to our HALI field team.  Two Olympus Stylus Tough point and shoot digital cameras and one Canon Rebel.  We also imported a photographer from the US, Misty Richmond, to help our team learn more about photography, and thanks to her lessons and some help from scientists Christopher Gustafson and Liz Vanwormer, we are getting amazing photographs from all over Tanzania.  

This shot, by our field technician and Tanzania travel guru Muhiddin Salehe, beautifully captures the essence of train travel in Africa, complete with bananas aboard the engineer's platform.  Truckers and other drivers frequently purchase produce in bulk from rural areas where it is cheaper, and transport it on the roofs, platforms, and trailer hitches home to families or to markets for sale.  

At some point we really need to curate all of these great images and do a HALI photo exhibition.   

A Special Journey...

- David Wolking

Today Dr. Liz Vanwormer is returning from Tanzania.  Liz has been working with the HALI team on PREDICT, and is leading a project investigating pathogen transmission between bats, monkeys, and people in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park and surrounding areas.  That's a pretty special project, and we'll learn more about it as it develops, but it's not our main focus.   

Our main focus today is bat poop.  Why?  Because we spend a lot of time and money collecting it.  We find bats, we sample them, collect their poop, put it in vials with a special preservative, and then freeze it in liquid nitrogen.  If the bats don't have poop, we swab them, using a very small tipped swab and yes, we lubricate the tip.  We are not sadists.  All of these poop and fecal swab samples are taken to our lab in Morogoro where our technician Ruth uses a special protocol to extract RNA from the poop.  Once we have the RNA, we use it to synthesize complementary DNA (cDNA), then we freeze that cDNA and use it to run our viral family screening tests to look for genetic evidence of viruses.  You can find a lot of viruses in bat poop.  

So, Dr. Liz is traveling with some special luggage - a liquid nitrogen charged dry shipper full of cDNA from bat poop.  It's pretty amazing that genetic material from bat shit collected deep in Tanzania's Southern Highlands will have traveled to Morogoro, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, London, San Francisco, Napa, and finally to our UC Davis One Health lab.  Too bad it can't rack up frequent flyer miles....

To learn more about the PREDICT project, check out their homepage. 

To help HALI support our research activities in Tanzania, consider a donation... 

 

Out of the Box Diagnostics

- David Wolking

In January, outdoor apparel company Aether was making headlines for unveiling a concept store designed by Thierry Guagain using three stacked shipping containers.  There's even a teaser hyping the launch on Hayes Street.

Then, hip new Science and Culture journal Nautilus publishes a piece on shipping containers "The Box that Built the Modern World."    Shipping containers, those steel boxes you see on trains printed with Hamburg Sur and Hanjin are popping up everywhere, reinvented as designer homes, mobile expeditionary labs with 3D printers for the military providing "the most advanced workshops in the harshest environments," and as laboratories.  It's a little out of control.  Just visit Pinterest and search for shipping containers and you'll get the idea.

So why all the hype?  They're just 20' long rectangular steel containers.  Boxes.  7.9 million of these things move through the Port of Los Angeles every year.   31 million in Shanghai.  Such vast numbers, such ruggedly commonplace things, these boxes have become the basic ingredients for anything requiring immediate structure and space.

A few years ago in Morogoro, HALI jumped on the shipping container bandwagon (a less crowded wagon at that time), leveled out some ground outside the Sokoine University of Agriculture School of Veterinary Medicine and Public Health, brought in 2 containers, stacked them up, and reinvented them as an advanced molecular diagnostic laboratory for emerging infectious diseases.  New buildings cost money, require more permits, take time.  Boxes, on the other hand, build up with the simplicity of legos.  One atop the other, a few modifications with some cutter torches, and bring in the interior designers. 

Initially we envisioned a relatively simply lab, just the stacked containers, some doors, maybe AC units to keep our techs from cooking and our freezers from burning out.  But Professor Kazwala had something entirely different in mind.  Prof took the design process to heart and reinvented these containers in the French Quarter style.  Roof, rails, and decorative ironwork, balconies and windows and flooring, they're a work of art.  Our lab is no longer a couple of boxes that in a former life held electronics, someone's belongings in an international move, or auto parts bound for the plant.  These boxes are opening up new worlds in scientific discovery, as our technicians Ruth and Joseph work on identifying novel pathogens.  

So if you're ever in Morogoro, come by the SUA lab, take a tour.  It's a great place to hang out on the balcony with a cup of chai, taking in the scenery of Morogoro, mountains and waterfalls in the distance, and learn about HALI's exciting new discoveries.  If you're lucky, maybe you'll even meet Professor Kazwala, though he's likely working on another design masterpiece, polishing his portfolio.

Want to help HALI keep building great things in Tanzania?  Consider a donation, or contact the HALI team to get involved!

 

 

Weekly Readers and Disease Detectives

The girl reads a book, we read the news like grown-ups.  Local media surveillance trained readers in 6 PREDICT countries to screen print media for health events and report them to digital disease detection systems like HealthMap.  The HALI project started local media surveillance in 2010.

The girl reads a book, we read the news like grown-ups.  Local media surveillance trained readers in 6 PREDICT countries to screen print media for health events and report them to digital disease detection systems like HealthMap.  The HALI project started local media surveillance in 2010.

- David Wolking

I bet you're reading this on an iPhone aren't you?  An iPad or some other tablet then?  OK fine, it's your PC.  When's the last time you read a print edition when you weren't at a doctor's office, or in Vegas, and we all know you were only reading those street papers to check out some lovely ladies or strapping young lads in leather and bow ties.  Print is dead! Rest in piece.  But it is far from dead everywhere.

In 2010 we starting reading newspapers in Tanzania.  But not just any newspaper.  Zika, Muhiddin and I went to a street kiosk in Iringa and started an inventory of every paper on sale.  Then we went to another kiosk, then another.  Some papers were in English, some in Kiswahili, and some were just like those street rags in Vegas, only way stranger.  We picked some favorites, papers that covered topics on health, papers that were more than just English Premiere League zines, and cruised back to the office. We Googled those papers and recorded which ones had online editions.  Then we went through each issue of the best papers, those with actual news, and assessed how many articles were actually published online (if there was even a website) vs. in the print edition.  Results: very few, under 20%.  

A newspaper kiosk in some PREDICT country waiting for one of our Local Media Surveillance Weekly Readers. 

A newspaper kiosk in some PREDICT country waiting for one of our Local Media Surveillance Weekly Readers. 

Were we bored?  Maybe.  But we were also on a mission.  A new project was born and we called it Local Media Surveillance (LMS).  At the HALI office not everyone is working all the time.  We have drivers, but sometimes we don't drive anywhere.  We have interns who sometimes aren't all that busy interning.  We have a field team that may not be in the field.  But we always have newspapers and we always have chai.  So, we turned our workplace culture of reading newspapers and drinking chai into an activity.  We subscribed to a few papers (those without online editions),  and started skimming them looking for news on health, things like people or animals getting sick, risks for disease emergence like areas in Tanzania where people eat monkeys or mice, or where bats are flying into people's homes.  When we found an article, we scanned it.  Then we summarized it in English and sent it off to our friends at HealthMap who posted it to their digital disease surveillance network.

What's the point?

Digital disease surveillance systems like HealthMap have automated systems that screen the web and news media in supported languages for key words on diseases and disease outbreaks. Then they post the news to maps.  In real time they showcase health alerts from around the world and do a great job providing early warning of outbreaks to decision makers and the public.  But we work in Tanzania, and they speak Kiswahili.  HealthMap doesn't speak Kiswahili (yet), and we noticed that the map of Tanzania didn't have too many alerts, so we wondered if they were missing our news.  Then we wondered if they were missing news reports that weren't digitized as well; news reported in papers with no online counterpart.  So, through USAID's PREDICT project, we worked with HealthMap and developed a new activity - and Local Media Surveillance was born.  I call it "Weekly Readers", and right now in Tanzania my Weekly Readers are busy as always reading newspapers with purpose, they're probably about to discover a Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever outbreak in Uganda.

Today the Local Media Surveillance project is all grown up.  Thanks to a talented UC Davis PhD student named Jessica Schwind and our friend and superstar HALI project Principal Investigator Dr. Woutrina Miller, we rolled out LMS from Tanzania to 5 other countries and conducted a formal evaluation on the project's impact and potential.  What did we learn?  Well, Jessica will let us all know soon.  She's presenting the results of the LMS project and evaluation at the Digital Disease Detection Conference this September.  But I'll let you in on a secret, LMS works.  Weekly Readers make great Disease Detectives, and until print is actually dead, we'll keep on reading and reporting.  You can follow our progress by watching LMS pins pop up in Tanzania, Bolivia, Cameroon, Banladesh, Uganda, and Vietnam on HealthMap.

Want to help out?  Our Weekly Readers need funds for subscriptions, please check out our donation page. 

Want to be a LMS Disease Detective?  Let me know and I'll let  you in on some tricks of the trade.  

Know about an Outbreak?  Tell HealthMap.

Feeling sick?  Check out FluNearYou and tell somebody about it.

Strange but True - Bats on Trains!

-David Wolking

As a kid I used to read the Strange but True books.  They were terrible, but did inspire imagination and a sense of the mysterious in everyday life.  Sometimes on our weekly Skype calls a sense of the Strange but True creeps into the conversation.

Last Friday, Zika was leading our PREDICT surveillance team on a trip to sample bat colonies in Nunge, Kilombero, and Ifakara.  The fruit bats at Kilombero and Ifakara had since migrated away  (likely to the coast where it is warmer), but the team found insectivorous bats at a major train station in the area and went to work.

On the Skype call, all I could think about was bats on trains, and maybe a terrible sequel to Snakes on a Plane with Samuel Jackson fighting off vampire bats as a train rushed over rusty rails to certain demise in the Amazon.   But alas, not to be.  Zika told us the bats aren't on the trains, they're in the train station.  I've never seen a train in Tanzania, less a train station, so I'm imagining a concrete block version of Grand Central Station painted Chama Cha Mapinduzi green and yellow with vendors selling delicacies like BBQ corn or roasted mice, and the station master dangling a gold pocket watch waiting for the big diesel to roll on in, on time of course.  That would've been strange but not so true.  Luckily Zika shared a few pictures today to clear things up.

Bats in Train stations!  Not as sexy, but just as relevant from a wildlife disease surveillance perspective.  Train stations are full of people, bats live in the station, and right there you have what we call an interface, or point of contact between people and wildlife where disease transmission might occur.  Transmission can happen a number of ways, directly through a bite (not likely in this case - these are not vampire bats), or indirectly through exposure to bat saliva, feces, or urine.  Think about it.  You have this great job as a cleaner for the train station - steady income in a rural area in Africa, as long as that train keeps running, people keep buying tickets, and you keep sweeping.  Problem is, these bats poop all over the floor.  By the time you get there the guano sweeps up easily enough, but the sweeping and breeze make dust, and you may be breathing in aerosolized pathogens from bat feces.  Plus, train station sweepers probably don't have health care, so if they get sick, it's all about the immune system.  That's a hypothetical situation,  but when we run tests to see what viruses these bats in the train station might be carrying, we will probably use fecal samples as most likely for disease transmission to humans and other animals.

One more Strange but True for today - did you know that my university (University of California) and the military experimented with wild caught bats for use as bombers in World War II?  Neither did I, and probably for a reason.  What a disaster.  Some ideas, like hooking incendiary explosives through the chest skin on a Mexican free-tailed bat, should be left unspoken.  They actually thought weaponized bats would be more effective than conventional or atomic explosives in ending the conflict in the Pacific:

"Think of thousands of fires breaking out simultaneously over a circle of forty miles in diameter for every bomb dropped... Japan could have been devastated, yet with small loss of life."

Keep dreaming, and redefine loss of life.  That program must have killed 100s of thousands of bats.  Way to go UC.  Strange but true....

 

 

Buffalo, cow, man, and mycobacterium – inside the microbial exchange in Tanzania

-David Wolking

“For a time, all was bountiful in the land, but then drought came. No rain fell for months, and it became drier and drier, hotter and hotter. The stream stopped flowing. The water hole turned first to mud and then to dry, cracked earth.  One by one, the animals slowly left or starved until no one was left…”  - Lion, Chameleon and Chicken, A Gogo Bantu Folktale from Tanzania

Change is coming.  It was first recognized in the landscape, when the Great Ruaha River in Tanzania, the lifeblood of a land where miombo woodlands of Southern Africa blend into the Sudanian Acacia-Commiphora zone of East Africa, slowly dried up.  That seasonal drying, along with other changes in the landscape, agricultural intensification, deforestation, extension of grazing lands into protected areas, may be the source of other less noticeable changes, microscopic changes. 

In the Ruaha ecosystem, home to Tanzania’s largest national park and protected area, researchers with the Health for Animals and Livelihood Improvement (HALI) project are investigating how these changes at both the landscape and microscopic level affect the health of wildlife, domestic animal and human communities.  In a new publication released in June, HALI researchers report the detection of Mycobacterium bovis, a bacterium that can cause tuberculosis in animals and humans, in 8 species of wildlife, including the first detection of M. bovisin 3 new species: Kirk’s Dik Dik, vervet monkeys, and yellow baboons.  In addition, the team detected M. bovis in African buffalo inside Ruaha National Park, the first confirmed buffalo infection in Tanzania. 

“Although we anticipated we might find bovine tuberculosis in species closely related to cattle, like buffalo, the documentation of infection in 8 different species occupying different ecological niches both within and outside wildlife protected areas was unexpected and suggests the existence of a complex wildlife-livestock transmission cycle.”   - Dr. Deana Clifford, founding HALI project coordinator and wildlife veterinarian for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The microbial market place

In Ruaha, M. bovis is not a stranger, at least to domestic animals and their caretakers.  There is wide spread bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle in the area, and as a zoonotic pathogen, tuberculosis may also affect human communities.  The HALI team looked at bTB in livestock, and observing the land-use changes in the Ruaha area, hypothesized that tuberculosis was also infecting wildlife populations. Livestock herds frequently share grazing lands, foraging areas, and water holes with wildlife, and as a result may swap microbes and parasites with other species through environmental contamination, or in the case of M. bovis, even through aerosols, through a cough or a sneeze.   

From 2006-2010, HALI worked with game scouts employed by the Community Wildlife Management Areas bordering Ruaha National Park, hunting companies, Park staff, and village networks to obtain tissue samples from hunter-killed, depredated animals (animals killed for causing crop damage in fields), and carcasses.  Two HALI game scouts, Coaster and Shukuru, social network nodes for news of animal deaths, would hear about a kill or a carcass and bicycle out into the bush to collect tissue samples and GPS the location.  Samples were then sent to the project laboratory at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, a center of excellence for molecular diagnostics and tuberculosis detection. 

The team collected tissues from 149 animals of 30 different species, the majority (69%) collected outside protected areas in village lands.  Sokoine University cultured the samples for mycobacterium and used PCR assays to detect M. bovis.  Positive samples were spoligotyped (a technique used to delineate mycobacterium species and distinguish unique strains), and they found that M. bovis isolates from infected wildlife were identical to the strains of M. bovis found in livestock herds.  In an area where human settlements, activities and livestock grazing areas are pushing further and further into wildlife habitat, the animals are trading.  They just don’t know it, and it is possible that this microbial trade could be making them sick.

Although the team’s findings suggest that livestock herds and wildlife are sharing M. bovis, it is not clear who started it.  With M. bovis-infected African buffalo herd inside Ruaha National Park, a herd that encounters livestock rarely, and little to no bovine tuberculosis control among livestock in the area, it is possible M. bovis is maintained in the ecosystem by both wildlife and livestock.  Because the team found M. bovis in wildlife species occupying very different ecological niches, from buffalo to other ungulates like dik diks and impala all the way up the evolutionary chain to our primate cousins vervet monkey and yellow baboon, it appears that M. bovis is settled down and is planning to stay.  Buffalo in particular are a major maintenance host for bovine tuberculosis in Africa, once bTB is established in a free-ranging herd, that herd can sustain infection without repeated trade of M. bovis with other animals like livestock.  In other words, M. bovis becomes a resident, and since buffalo are often preyed on or scavenged by carnivores and other wildlife, the microbe can spillover to other species in the ecosystem, even humans like hunters.  In Tanzania wild meat is usually smoked or roasted, nyama choma, but before you have meat you must have a butcher, and field dressing a carcass without appropriate hygiene and sanitation measures can be a risk for exposure to bTB.

Regulating the exchange?

Now that M. bovis seems to be a microbial resident in both livestock and wildlife in the area, how do you control its spread?  The HALI team identify several management options in the article, but for a pathogen intrinsically linked to multiple species in different ecological niches, these management options require an ecosystem-based approach linking livestock and human health interventions with conservation and development goals. 

  1. The Ruaha River is drying, and if that continues, the health of the entire ecosystem will suffer.  The good news is that continuing and enhancing current conservation efforts to improve hydrologic flow, prevent bank erosion and improve water quality will increase water abundance, allowing more spaces for animals to drink and limiting interspecies contact. 
  2. Ecological restoration and conservation efforts should be expanded to preserve remaining wildlife habitat and help address wildlife forays into village land, farms, and grazing areas.  
  3. The veterinary community can target test of cattle and wildlife for bTB and a range of other diseases in shared grazing lands to identify areas or sites with increased spillover risk, and work to better understand livestock grazing strategies, locations, and sites to improve planning for pasture access and livestock production.  
  4. Finally, and perhaps most critical is improving livelihoods.  Increasing income to rural residents through poverty reduction programs, increased market access, training and education can reduce reliance on natural resources for survival, the driving force behind land use change that may be undermining ecological health and driving M.bovis and other zoonotic disease transmission dynamics.

In this approach, conservation is linked to development – with more water from a flowing river, better grazing opportunities, healthier livestock, and improved livelihoods, the pressure for livestock and wildlife to share resources, interact, and exchange microbes can be reduced, and the animals, along with their caretakers, will not have to slowly leave the water holes until no one is left.

 Read the full article “Tuberculosis infection from wildlife in the Ruaha ecosystem Tanzania: implications for wildlife, domestic animals, and human health” at Epidemiology & Infections, or contact the author, Dr. Deana Clifford (dlclifford@ucdavis.edu)

 

 

Obama's new Africa strategy and some advice for the international research community

It's not as easy as it looks... President Obama juggles more than just business, investment, trade, development, corruption, poverty reduction, health, and conservation in Tanzania. (Photo from adn.com)

It's not as easy as it looks... President Obama juggles more than just business, investment, trade, development, corruption, poverty reduction, health, and conservation in Tanzania. (Photo from adn.com)

- David Wolking

President Obama was in Tanzania today.  Sadly he did not visit the HALI project team or our partners at Sokoine University.  We understand, there were more pressing issues at hand in Dar es Salaam, where the President met with Tanzania's leaders and discussed improving US-Tanzania relationships, trade, and the investment climate.

Notably, Obama committed  $10 million to combat illegal wildlife trafficking in eastern Africa, including a dedicated post through the US Fish and Wildlife Service to support the region through better enforcement, policy, and practice.  In addition, he signed an executive order to create a task force dedicated to reducing US demand for trafficked wildlife.  This is great news for conservation in East Africa, a traditional wildlife trade and export hub to Asia, and sadly a region where instability and conflict threaten conservation gains as terrorist groups increasingly rely on poaching and trafficking to fund activities.

But the most intriguing element of Obama's focus on Africa is a refreshing step away from aid and donor dependence and towards utilizing US federal assistance and infrastructure as leverage to support greater investments in business, trade, research and development.  'The President promised to "step up our game" in a region that is home to six of the world's 10 fastest growing economies,' and offered advice to African leaders on international partnerships: choose your international partners carefully, and push back against countries that bring in their own workers or mine Africa's natural resources but handle the production outside the continent.

Obama's advice is especially relevant to the international research community, where sadly Africa's abundance of natural resources is all to often exploited for scientific gain by an international community of researchers unwillingly to invest the time, energy, or capital in treating research activities as training grounds and learning labs for an emerging cadre of brilliant African scientists.  Part of the problem is no doubt linked to research funding and restrictions on time and resources to adequately integrate capacity building into the research process.  However, even with limited funds and tight timelines, capacity building and training can accompany programs and lead to better and more reliable results, along with improving the efficiency and efficacy of research in future projects.  

HALI has been working with national parks staff, village leaders, children, community game scouts, livestock extension officers and health officials, students in community development at local training institutes and colleges, and bachelors and graduate level students at Sokoine University since project inception in 2006.  Integrating intensive training and professional development into technical research work plans has been a challenging process.  Sometimes training is incredibly basic, like learning to use Microsoft Office and Excel, but it can also involve extraordinarily technical lessons like fruit bat capture and immobilization, and molecular diagnostics and viral discovery.  We find that capacity building is our most rewarding endeavor, and we hope, our longest lasting investment as this promising young generation of development practitioners and researchers go onto lead their own independent studies, development projects, and entrepreneurial activities in areas well beyond our imagination and HALI's initial scope.  

A lot of energy, attention, and investment can follow from US Presidential visit to a country like Tanzania.  Let' hope Obama's advice on investing time, energy, and capital is heeded not only by the US and international business and development community, but also by the research and academic community working to understand and identify today's problems and offer up tomorrow's solutions.  

Enough soap boxing...  check out some of our own young and brilliant scientific leaders over at the HALI Team page.

 

Partners in Wildlife Health

The HALI team works with Ruaha National Park veterinarians to safely restrain an adult giraffe for sampling.  Giraffes in the park have been suffering from a skin disease, leading to a partnership between the park, HALI, and Sokoine University to identify the cause of the disease and intervention options. (Photo by Goodluck Paul)

The HALI team works with Ruaha National Park veterinarians to safely restrain an adult giraffe for sampling.  Giraffes in the park have been suffering from a skin disease, leading to a partnership between the park, HALI, and Sokoine University to identify the cause of the disease and intervention options. (Photo by Goodluck Paul)

HALI Partnerships with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and National Parks

- Goodluck Paul and David Wolking

HALI is actively collaborating with Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA) and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) on several wildlife disease surveillance and investigation activities.

In May 2013, HALI project veterinarians, including project leads Dr. Jonna Mazet and Professor Rudovick Kazwala, were invited by RUNAPA to participate in a giraffe immobilization exercise to collect samples for an investigation into an emerging skin disease impacting giraffe herd health at the park.  In collaboration with RUNAPA veterinarians, Serengeti National Park veterinarians and other staff from the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), the team safely immobilized 16 giraffes, and samples were sent to SUA for laboratory investigation.  Once the samples are analyzed, results will be shared with the park staff, and options for skin disease intervention will be carefully considered. 

We were able to document the immobilization event in our slide show (see Twiga Take-Down).  It is no small feat to safely inject drugs and guide Earth’s tallest terrestrial animal to ground-level for sampling, and even more difficult to get them back on their feet again, but the team did an excellent job ensuring no giraffes were injured, and that all animals safely recovered and returned to their lives browsing on twigs and leaves from tops of acacia trees, ruminating on life, necking, and tending to young calves.

What’s on the table now?

This month in northern Tanzania, HALI’s PREDICT project is training TAWIRI wildlife veterinarians in the safe capture, handling and sampling of small mammals like bats in the Tanga and Arusha regions.  PREDICT is investigating bats as a potential animal host species for zoonotic diseases, and is sampling bat colonies and roosting sites throughout Tanzania. 

Later this year, in mid or late September, HALI is planning another collaborative activity with Ruaha National Park and TAWIRI to conduct an aerial and ground survey of buffalo populations in the southern part of the Park.  These surveys help the park better understand the buffalo population and herd health, and assist in park wildlife management plans.

Future collaborations?

HALI looks forward to fostering other collaborations and sharing project experience on disease surveillance, animal handling, and investigations into emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases throughout the country.  We hope these partnerships are just the beginning, and that we continue to join forces with the National Parks, TAWIRI and others to better understand disease and improve health at the wildlife-human-livestock and environmental interfaces in Tanzania.

 

Twiga Take-Down!

What does it take to safely anesthetize and collect samples from an adult giraffe (twiga in Kiswahli)?  In short, a very carefully planned take-down with highly trained veterinarians and wildlife health technicians....

Check out our slideshow to learn more about HALI's partnership with Ruaha National Park and Sokoine University of Agriculture veterinarians on an investigation into an emerging skin disease in the local giraffe population.

Read more about HALI Partnerships in Wildlife Health here...

3rd Annual Ruaha Roundtable Meeting

See you at the Roundtable... (photo credit: W. Miller)

See you at the Roundtable... (photo credit: W. Miller)

On June 15th, the HALI project is hosting the 3rd annual Ruaha Roundtable Meeting in Iringa, Tanzania.  These roundtable meetings provide a forum for discussion and planning involving stakeholders working in natural resource management, health, and development in the Ruaha Ecosystem.  Participants include Tanzania National Parks -  Ruaha National Park personnel, the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania Veterinary Investigation Centres, livestock extension officers and district game officers, the Wildlife Conservation Society Ruaha Landscape Program, the Friends of Ruaha Society, Ruaha Carnivore Project, The Wildlife Connection, representatives from the Ruaha tourist industry and hunting companies, and other interested stakeholders in conservation, resource management and health.

This year's roundtable meeting will emphasize discussions on projects and activities in the area, along with a working session on data sharing and potential collaborations among projects.  HALI is excited to host our friend and former project collaborator Alphonce Msigwa for a special student research presentation.  Alphonse is finishing his research at Sokoine University of Agriculture, and will give the opening presentation entitled “Diversity and relative abundances of small mammalian carnivores in MBOMIPA Wildlife Management Area” at the meeting.

We look forward to these roundtables to connect with our partners and stakeholders, and to improve collaborations and communications among research and intervention programs in the area.  One of our HALI team members will post a summary of the meeting outcome with some photos on the blog in a few weeks, along with any meeting highlights and plans for moving forward.  

Wish us luck! 

Secrets of the Batcave...

Most bat caves have more bats than toys... 

- David Wolking

The caves were interesting, full of bats. At this chamber you could just hear all the bats surrounding you and when the guide point to the inside of the chamber you could see hundreds of bats just flying around. - Melvin (a tourist in Tanzania at the Amboni Caves, Tanga Region)

 Cave tourism sounds like a great time.  You shimmy down through a limestone tunnel into a large cavern in the dark, headlamps shining sporadically on stalactites and casting eery shadows, the echo of your voice and of dripping water, and the chirping of cave bats.  Cave tourism also means big business.  Mammoth Cave National Park  generates an estimated $64 million for the south central Kentucky area each year.

But cave tourism also presents certain risks.  Beyond the fear of headlamps dying out leaving you in the dark bowels of the earth without Batman's utility belt and his famous nightvision Bat-goggles, there is the risk of disease both to you and to those happily chirping and roosting bats.

If you somehow missed the plethora of news reports, White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungus infecting bats and causing them to awake more often during hibernation, has been associated with the deaths of 5-6 million North American bats.  The rapid spread of WNS and uncertainty about its spread and transmission has lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service to declare a moratorium on caving activities in affected regions, as it is suspected that the fungus is transported through soil via clothing and boots of cavers.

But bats are not the only ones that can get sick when hanging out with people in caves.  We know bats harbor a lot of disease causing organisms, including viruses like rabies, Marburg, and coronaviruses like SARS, and people visiting caves have been infected and in some cases even died from these viruses.

Caves are fascinating ecosystems, and cave-dwelling bats live in amazingly social, interesting colonies.  A recent article in PLOS Pathogens describes the behavioral characteristics of Egytian fruit bats in Python Cave, Uganda, a popular cave tourist destination associated with recent Marburg virus outbreaks.  In Python, the fruit bats compete for roosting space in the cave, with juvenile sub-adult bats dwelling in less secure locations in tight clusters near the floors and cave entrance, locations with higher risk of predation (it is after all Python Cave), and where they get shit on.  Literally.  Roosting near the floor of the cave means all your relatives and elders above urinate and defecate on your head, a risk factor for viral exposure the researchers speculate is linked to seasonal pulses of Marburg virus circulation in this sub-adult demographic.  So, to make a long story short, all that guano cave tourists are trudging through could be infectious, it could make you sick.

I stress that it could make you sick because in a lot of cases we don't really know.  Even in the Python Cave study, the researchers were unable to detect Marburg virus in the bat guano.   But we do know people visiting caves, or working in mines or abandoned mine shafts have gotten sick from viruses linked to bats in the past, and have died.  The risk is there.  Cave tourists beware.

What does this have to do with HALI?   

 "We went caving at the Amboni caves (home to more bats than I would have liked!)" - Christine

 "We went caving at the Amboni caves (home to more bats than I would have liked!)" - Christine

Our PREDICT project field team is in northern Tanzania this month capturing bats and rodents at high-risk human-wildlife contact interfaces, like the cave tourism context, where people might get sick from wild animals.  One of the places they are visiting is the Amboni Caves, where our friend Melvin (quoted above) saw so many bats.   Amboni is a popular tourist destination and the largest cave system in East Africa.  Lonely Planet even advises cave visitors to "wear closed toed shoes to avoid picking bat droppings off your feet."  Nice - some inadvertent disease risk prevention advice from the travel gurus! 

We hope to capture and sample some of the Amboni cave bats and investigate them for viruses that may be harmful to people.  By looking at bat feces (and other samples), we can determine if there are infectious disease risks to cave visitors and other high-risk groups like the cave guides.  If Zika brought his utility belt, we may even get some good pictures from Amboni to share, so tune in soon, "same bat-time, same bat-channel..."

 

Roasted Mice

Rodents are a popular delicacy in Southern Tanzania and Malawi.  Photo from "Eating Roasted Mice in Malawi" via The Daily Mail.

Rodents are a popular delicacy in Southern Tanzania and Malawi.  Photo from "Eating Roasted Mice in Malawi" via The Daily Mail.

- David Wolking

In certain areas along the Indian Ocean coast from Kenya to Malawi (and likely beyond), mice hunting, rat trapping, and rodent roasting can be pretty popular. Rodents are actually a common source of protein worldwide, even in Paris, where rats were eaten on a large scale during the Franco-Prussian War and reportedly taste like partridge and pork. There is even a recipe in Larouse Gastronomique for Entrecote à la bordelaise (Bordeaux style grilled rat), and it looks delicious.

Over the weekend, Zika and the field team returned from the Mtwara region in Southern Tanzania, where they worked with the Ward Councilor and village leaders to learn about rodent hunting and consumption, and partnered with local hunters to trap the popular delicacies for sampling.  We know rodents, especially mice like Mastomys natalensis (the Natal multimammate mouse) are reservoir hosts for zoonotic viruses like Lassa Fever in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the hunting and consumption of wild meat is a risky practice for disease emergence.  When we learned about the popularity of roasting mice in the area, sampling in Mtwara became a priority for disease surveillance as part of the USAID-funded PREDICT project

After introducing PREDICT to the local leaders and identifying some hunters to help guide them towards prime trapping zones, the team captured 50 rodents (mainly field mice) in 3 different villages.  As part of our disease outreach program, the team also talked with the hunters and local leaders about the risks of zoonotic diseases, and ways to minimize disease transmission between people and rodents.  It seems rodent hunting is a popular activity for both children and adults in the area, and larger rodents fattened on grain after a harvest can sometimes feed several people.  Hunters capture the rodents in locally made traps, and are typically roasted (nyama choma - barbecued meat).  Cooking meat well is a good practice to destroy viral RNA that might cause diseases like Lassa Fever, and the HALI team did their best to communicate other risks involved in disease transmission from rodents like bites during trapping, cuts during butchering, or even inhaling aerosolized urine or feces if the animals were in the local traps for a time before removal for the big barbecue.

With the samples packed up in liquid nitrogen, the team transported them back to Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro.  There, Ruth Maganga, PREDICT's laboratory technologist will process them and extract the RNA, and prepare them for viral screening to determine if any of the rodents we sampled were shedding viruses, and ultimately if those viruses might pose a threat to human health.

 

Sampling Fruit Bats, Dar es Salaam

- David Wolking

The HALI field team led by Drs. Zikankuba Sijali and Goodluck Paul was in Dar es Salaam all weekend identifying fruit bat colonies near urban areas as part of the PREDICT's wildlife disease surveillance project.  Using mist nets (special nets designed to safely capture bats) suspended from roosting sites high in the trees, the team trapped three different species of bats at multiple sites, and took samples to help PREDICT understand what viruses these ancient mammals carry that might pose a potential health threat to humans.  All of the bats were released after sampling, to continue their critical ecological role as pollinators.  Our staff scientist Dr. Liz Vanwormer captured the team in action in these great pictures.

 

This little rodent went to market...

The PREDICT team at Tandale market chatting up the market manager about Ratatouille in November.

- David Wolking

Today the PREDICT team led by Zika and Goodluck laid their first traps at the Tandale market in Dar es Salaam.  This kicks off a new phase for PREDICT, where we begin trapping at high-risk urban areas for human and wildlife contact.  For us in the US, "urban" contact with wildlife usually means throwing whatever is handy at mice, rats, or raccoons, or maybe feeding ducks and pigeons.  In Dar, it's really not that different, except they have fruit bats, and it's nothing like the US at all, I lied.  The first site Zika chose for sampling is one of the biggest markets in town, full of delicious looking fruits and vegetables, and according to the Tandale market manager, full of rodents.  

After talking with the market manager and getting the market guards to guarantee the safety of our traps overnight, Zika and Goodluck set out a trapping grid in the early evening, and will head on back to the market at 3:30AM to check the traps, and if we're lucky, do some very minimal and safe sampling.

I'm expecting these market mice to be foodies, Tandale is a magical place for the culinarily inclined.  I'm sure if Remy lived in Dar, he'd live in Tandale and whip up a magical curry rich in Zanzibari spices, coconut milk, and pili pili...  Maybe Pixar will do a Ratatouille 2: Swahili Coast edition.  Pixar?  Pixar are you there?  It's me Remy and I want to go to Tanzania! 

 

Disease Package

- David Wolking

"The role of disease in wildlife populations has probably been radically underestimated" - Aldo Leopold

So begins the special issue Disease Package in the Wildlife Professional, the quarterly magazine of the Wildlife Society.  In case you missed this last Spring, you need to check it out.  Why?  Because it's amazing and everyone loves packages.  Even disease packages.  As a special treat for HALI fans, our very own Drs. Deana Clifford and Jonna Mazet have a special feature on page 20 "One Health Drives Wildlife Vets".  There are also great contributions on why disease is relevant in wildlife conservation, the role of disease in marine ecosystems, and of course on infectious disease spillover, that often referenced human-animal interface we spend so much of our time investigating through projects like HALI and PREDICT.  So check it out, and if you like it, consider supporting the Wildlife Society so they can keep making these great publications and give us more packages!

 

 

 

So, you want to be a disease detective?

- David Wolking

If you're a person who's wandered through the forest and come across a dead animal or  a carcass, or been driving down a country road and spotted road kill and wondered "Hey, maybe that thing was killed by some crazy infectious disease!" then you're in the right place.  Once you enter the world of disease it's really hard to look at life (or death) the same way again.  

So, for all you disease detectives out there, we present this excellent HALI project resource: the Wildlife Health Handbook: Recognizing, Investigating, and Reporting Diseases of Concern for Wildlife Conservation and Human Health.   This guide is perfect for you or your loved ones - if you're the kind of folks who stumble upon sick or dead wildlife, you just happen to work in a wildlife related field, or are interested in teaching folks about wildlife epidemiology and infectious disease risk.  

Check it out and let us know what you think, this handbook is supposed to be interactive - we even developed some excellent case studies to put you right in the thick of some crazy situations (rabid dogs and hyenas anyone?).  For our East African friends, we even have a version in Kiswahli.  Soma!  Thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Without Borders project for supporting this initiative, along with the Tanzania National Parks and MBOMIPA community game scouts who actually do stumble upon dead wildlife and need to know this stuff.