Batmen at Chita

HALI's now famous Dr. Popo (Zikankuba Sijali, the bat doctor), Chris Kilonzo, and our newly minted One Health Officer, Alphonce Msigwa have been hard at work scoping sites and sampling wildlife as part of HALI's zoonotic disease investigations for our PREDICT and viral sharing between human and animal populations projects.  They've been sending us field updates on a pretty regular basis over WhatsApp, which is proving to be a great tool for real-time situational awareness. Plus with that hardcore encryption it even passes HIPAA standards so is certified secure for protecting the privacy of our stakeholders and research participants.  

One of the team's latest updates came from Chita, a small village in the Udzungwa Mountains area of Tanzania where our team has been working with a local health clinic to sample patients with febrile illnesses to find out if there are fevers of unknown origin that may be zoonotic and potentially caused by viruses transmitted by wildlife like bats that often roost in people's homes or from monkeys in local forests where people frequently go to hunt, gather, and spend time. Who doesn't love a forest?  

I scraped the pics in this slideshow from our WhatsApp feed and added Zika's captions along with a few of my own for clarity to highlight one day in the life of this bat sampling crew, this time working in a village setting targeting micro bats that roost in the roofs of homes and prove to be quite a nuisance for the Chita residents. Thanks to Zika and our One Health Officer's efforts, the HALI team has been doing a good job sticking up for bats and promoting conservation for the ecosystem services they provide (eating insects and mosquitoes a huge one in an endemic malaria zone). But there is certainly a lot of work to be done to mitigate the risks for disease transmission, even some easy fixes like low cost improvements to homes to prevent the bats from moving in and taking up residence by adding screens and repairing ceiling panels. But low cost is not no cost, so until there is a Chita Champion the HALI team will keep working with the community on zoonotic disease outreach and prevention ideas.

 

HALI Team at the Nane Nane Agricultural Fair (PHOTOS)

The HALI team presented on the PREDICT Tanzania project at the Nane Nane Agricultural Fair in Morogoro last week.

Nane Nane Day recognizes the economic importance of farmers in Tanzania. "Nane Nane" translates to "eight eight" (August 8th) in Swahili. The Agricultural Fair takes place throughout Tanzania and allows farmers and other agricultural stakeholders (like HALI and PREDICT) to share ideas and showcase their work. The HALI team represented the Sokoine University of Agriculture and PREDICT Project at this year's event. Enjoy a few photos! 

Above: Abel, Walter (in Tyvek) & Ismaralda (lab intern) standing by PREDICT banner positioned at PREDICT table.

Above & Below: Professor Kazwala is at the PREDICT table explaining to the Prime Minister (Kassim Majaliwa) what PREDICT is all about, and to the left of Prof is the Sokoine University of Agriculture Vice Chancellor. 

Into the Magombelema Cave (PHOTOS)

The bat cave. A dark, mysterious abyss and portal to another world beyond the reach of the sun where minerals grow and the floor and ceiling are alive with sound and movement. Caves are fascinating, holding the promise of discovery, and not just for adventurers and spelunkers. 

Recently, disease ecologists have been exploring caves for viral discovery, sampling cave-dwelling bats to learn more about their viro-diversity as well as their potential to act as reservoirs for dangerous diseases like Ebola and Marburg virus. At Python Cave in Uganda where tourists acquired Marburg virus infection, for example, a team from the CDC sampled a large population of fruit bats suspected as hosts. They detected Marburg, and learned a lot about the dynamics of viral shedding among bats in the colony to better understand risks for exposure and infection.

This month HALI's own "Team Popo" (the Bat Team) ventured into the Udzungwa mountains to do some cave explorations of our own as part of the Viral Sharing (VISHA) project. Led by Dr. Popo himself (Zikankuba Sijali), the team geared up and headed off to the Magombelema Cave, a new site where they first worked to characterize the area and learn from people in the communities about their interactions with bats and other wildlife.

Wearing Tyvek suits with hoods, googles, and N-95 respirators to protect themselves from exposure to any potentially dangerous pathogens, Team Popo navigated through Magombelema's chambers and identified some great locations to place mist nets. Bats were safely captured and released, and samples collected and preserved in liquid nitrogen for our lab team at Sokoine University, who will screen the samples for the presence of viral RNA. Many of the bats had already migrated to other areas (seasonal migration is common for fruit bats), so Team Popo learned from local villagers about the best times of year to return the the Magombelema area when bats are most abundant for future capture and sampling work.

HALI's VISHA project is working to understand viral sharing between animals like bats and non-human primates and people in the Udzungwa area along with potential risk factors associated with viral spillover and spread.

Photos by the HALI Team / Introduction by David Wolking. 

How do you make a project sustainable?

A few weeks ago I was invited to present at the UC Davis Student’s for One Health Club's Project Design Workshop on making a project sustainable.  The intent was to use HALI as a case study of project sustainability, a shining model for others to learn from and follow. But in preparing for the workshop, I confronted two unanticipated concepts:

  1. Sustainability for a research project is very tricky and maybe not all that relevant.
  2. While we strive towards a vision of sustainability for HALI, viability may be a more realistic goal.

There is an abundance of literature on sustainability and how to design sustainable projects, from the development toolkit to energy and natural resource management.  I promised to share a few with the Students for One Health group, so to keep my promise, here you go (IFAD's Sustainability of Rural Development Projects and PSU's Project Sustainability Manual).

For more, you can simply Google “how to make a project sustainable” and find all you need to get started. I did.  More useful in my opinion is communicating the challenges a project like HALI confronts in working towards a definition of sustainability. Let's get started.

How do you make a collaborative research and capacity building project like HALI sustainable?

What does sustainability even mean in this context? Does it have to be Venn diagram ready? What about viability, where does it fit into the picture?

Conventionally, sustainability and viability are different sides of the same coin separated only by time, where sustainability is viability over the long-term. HALI is a pretty good example of a viable research project.

The HALI Story  - A Decade of Hits (well almost…)

Viable projects generate info-graphics.

Viable projects generate info-graphics.

Once upon a time, 2006 in fact and with funding from USAID, HALI began as a partnership between UC Davis, the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of Vermont and other local Tanzanian organizations uniting multiple disciplines in a One Health approach to investigate the epidemiology and impact of zoonotic diseases on health and livelihoods in the Ruaha Ecosystem.  The initial USAID support lasted until 2009 (with the addition of other small grants), and our research team leveraged the capacity and infrastructure developed in the first 3 years along with research findings to secure a new collaboration with UC San Francisco and the Tanzania National Institute for Medical Research. Under this new collaboration, HALI was awarded NIH funds to further expand our One Health approach to investigate the epidemiology of tuberculosis and Brucella in the area, including medical surveillance of local clinics and sampling of people in HALI study communities. 

Around the same time, an international consortium led by the UC Davis One Health Institute was awarded the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT project, which included Tanzania as a priority country for strengthening disease surveillance at high-risk human-animal interfaces for spillover and transmission of potentially pandemic viruses from wildlife to people.  Since HALI had already established core capacity in disease surveillance, especially wildlife disease surveillance (thanks Envirovet Summer Institute!), PREDICT invested in HALI and Sokoine University of Agriculture’s (SUA) Faculty of Veterinary Medicine as the Tanzania implementing partner. Through PREDICT, HALI expanded in scope from Ruaha to other parts of Tanzania and further developed the diagnostic capacity at SUA for viral detection.

In 2010, HALI also received an award to build-on research in health and livelihood improvement back home in the Ruaha Ecosystem through the USAID-funded Feed the Future Innovation Lab - Collaborative Research for Adapting Livestock Systems to Climate Change. The HALI 2.0 project was forged, continuing efforts working at the community level to strengthen livestock health and pastoralist nutrition and livelihoods.

In 2013-14, through capacity developed with USAID and NIH support and relationships made during PREDICT, HALI forged another partnership with Metabiota with support from a new US Federal Agency. Two more One Health projects were designed, one exploring the epidemiology of Rift Valley Fever and Brucella in the Kilombero and Iringa regions and the other investigating viral transmission of bat, non-human primate, and human populations sharing forest fragment ecosystems in and around the Udzungwa Mountains National Park.  Our team is actually in Tanzania right now doing initial site and scoping visits with SUA and a new addition to the HALI family, the Ifakara Health Institute.

Finally, in October of this year, UC Davis and the PREDICT consortium were successfully awarded USAID funds to continue PREDICT under the second phase of the Emerging Pandemic Threats program.  As with the first round of PREIDCT, HALI is implementing the project in Tanzania.

In sum, from 2009 to 2015, HALI research has been supported by 3 major US government agencies investing in 7 major collaborative research and capacity building projects. Additional funds from smaller grants including USFWS Wildlife Without Borders and Safari Club International to name a few, dramatically enhanced our programs and overall viability and let us do really cool things like partner with Ruaha National Park on understanding African Buffalo population trends, health, and movement patterns.

But let's get back to where we started, viability.

HALI is a very successful and viable project.

We are fortunate to have a great team of scientists and collaborators from around the world that continue to push our research and impact forward at multiple levels, from field assistants working at the community interface to staff scientists and Principal Investigators interfacing with ministry and agency partners. There is a tremendous amount of energy invested in continued capacity strengthening for our team and in identifying new opportunities when existing projects approach their natural end. We even have a rubric, yes a rubric for evaluating if opportunities are a good fit with our core vision and approach. There have been some lean years and some uncertain times when we weren’t sure of HALI’s future and our ability to retain our amazing team and continue our work, but overall we have weathered the storms and find ourselves in 2015 with five major programs running simultaneously out of our UC Davis and SUA-based hubs. We are even hiring, always a good sign.

But is HALI sustainable?

Despite all of our successes, HALI today is not sustainable, at least not under a conventional definition of sustainability where the project operates independently over long-term horizons. As a research program, we are and likely will be always dependent on some level of donor or agency funding and investment, opportunities that ebb and flow in an extremely competitive and political climate over which we have no control.  I challenge any project operating in this environment to convince me of its sustainability. Except maybe PARIMA, that was some great work and took a few decades.

So what is a sustainable research project?

Is it one that facilitates lasting change and impact long after the funding stream dries out? One that cranks out high-impact publications of relevance and interest with tons of citations? Research for development that informs successful interventions? One that trains scientists who over long careers train another generation of scientists ensuring the creation and continuation of knowledge over time?

With these in mind, some elements of HALI seem very sustainable. For example, knowledge created and shared through higher education and in training a new generation of Tanzanian scientists in One Health, and the potentially long-lasting impacts of our disease awareness and environmental education programs in primary schools. 

Big Dreams Need Big Teams!

Our project does have visions of sustainability, just no pre-determined plan.  We even have an annual “Visioning Meeting” to talk about this stuff, it’s where we developed that rubric!   The challenge for HALI is in designing a “sustainability” plan in a context where the concept of sustainability itself is so obscure.  Sustainability in 2006 would have been a wildly different discussion and road map than what we would draw-up today.

Despite this challenge, our dedicated efforts towards viability have enabled considerable progress down that road, wherever it may lead.  As HALI evolves, so too does our vision of what sustainability could be.  A strength of HALI has always been our partnerships and shared commitment to improving health and livelihoods, and our ability to adapt to meet new challenges and take advantage of emerging opportunities.

Next year we celebrate the project’s 10th birthday. HALI is all grown up. A decade of hits.  A lot has changed since 2006: new research, new team members and institutions, new study areas, new directions. But the overall vision and culture remain the same, along with dedication and commitment.  For project sustainability’s sake, maybe that’s all that matters.

Interested in joining the HALI team?

HALI is currently looking for a few highly trained, motivated and experienced research professionals for new projects investigating the epidemiology of zoonotic diseases among wildlife, domestic animals, and people in Tanzania. These are postdoctoral research positions based at the HALI field and lab stations in Iringa and Morogoro. To learn more about the research projects, required background and qualifications, check out the position descriptions below.  

For more information, or to apply, please send a cover letter, CV and at least 3 letters of reference to HALI's Operations Manager David Wolking (djwolking@ucdavis.edu) by December 1st, 2014.




Foraging for Emerging Viruses

HALI Scientist Dr. Liz Vanwormer from UC Davis led a team into the forests of the Udzungwa Mountains to track baboons and monkeys and forage for specimens for the PREDICT project.  These specimens are now at the UC Davis laboratory where they will undergo screening for viruses as part of a global initiative funded by USAID designed to detect and prevent the spillover of pathogens from animals to people.  

Knowledge is Power: Pastoralists Request Education to Improve Livelihoods in Tanzania

Pastoralists at focus groups in the Ruaha Ecosystem voiced concern about climate change impacting livestock health and livelihoods and requested more education to increase their resiliency.  HALI is working to tailor locally relevant education to these communities on livestock health, disease, and productivity, and eventually through programs in human nutrition.  Photo by C. Gustafson.

Pastoralists at focus groups in the Ruaha Ecosystem voiced concern about climate change impacting livestock health and livelihoods and requested more education to increase their resiliency.  HALI is working to tailor locally relevant education to these communities on livestock health, disease, and productivity, and eventually through programs in human nutrition.  Photo by C. Gustafson.

- David Wolking

In rural Tanzania, pastoralists and their livestock are increasingly vulnerable to a changing climate.  Diminished rainfall, and increasing rates of deforestation and agricultural intensification stress existing rangeland availability and productivity, and pressure pastoral communities to adapt traditional production and livelihoods for survival.

Previous HALI project research identified infectious disease as a major production limitation with impacts on rural incomes and food security.  But the HALI team led by Drs. Christopher Gustafson and Liz VanWormer, and Asha Makweta also wanted to know what pastoralists considered the main challenges to livestock production and livelihood improvement.

Locally relevant education has the potential to make pastoralists’ livestock herds and livelihoods more resilient in a landscape rapidly being altered by environmental change.

In a new research brief published by the Colorado State University led Livestock and Climate Change CRSP, the HALI team describes results of focus groups held with pastoralist representatives and local leaders in 21 villages in the Ruaha Ecosystem.  In addition to confirming initial research findings emphasizing the importance of disease on health and livelihoods, focus group findings identified a critical intervention request: education.  All focus groups identified education as a key priority in improving livestock health and increasing resiliency.  While recognizing water shortages, availability and access to markets, veterinary services, and availability of medicines and other factors as challenges, education was stressed as a mechanism to empower pastoral communities that are frequently undeserved and marginalized by exiting infrastructure.  To pastoralists in the HALI community, knowledge is power, and providing locally relevant and customized education has the potential to increase resiliency of livelihoods and a lifestyle under siege from rapid environmental change.

Read or download the full research brief: "Pastoralist perspectives on livestock health, likelihood improvement, and environmental change in rural Tanzania" on our Issuu page.





New HALI Publication: Bridging Local and Global Needs for Conservation and Development

Different stakeholders in the Ruaha Landscape have different needs and ideas for conservation and livelihood improvement.  Getting all stakeholders together to build collaborative regional development plans, though a challenge, may be the best bet in realizing conservation and development goals.  Photo by  Micol Farina via Mongobay.

Different stakeholders in the Ruaha Landscape have different needs and ideas for conservation and livelihood improvement.  Getting all stakeholders together to build collaborative regional development plans, though a challenge, may be the best bet in realizing conservation and development goals.  Photo by Micol Farina via Mongobay.

- David Wolking

In December 2013, the HALI team released a new publication on a study investigating the challenges associated with the sustainable management of landscapes like the Ruaha Ecosystem in Tanzania, where diverse stakeholders rely on natural resources for livelihoods.  Authored by Dr. Michel Masozera, who completed his PhD with HALI's partner the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, the study used conjoint analysis to assess the preferences of different stakeholders like local communities, government officials and non-governmental  organizations towards conservation and development goals.  Conjoint analysis is a technique used to establish the importance of different factors in service provision, typically used in marketing research for the identification of factors influencing demand of a product or commodity.  

In the study, Michel and team conducted focus groups at the village and district levels to identify critical problems facing local communities. They then formulated attributes or management alternatives based on the focus group discussions taking into account management concerns, public issues, resource use and development opportunities in the Ruaha Landscape, and bundled these attributes into a series of hypothetical management strategies. After recruiting representatives from each of the stakeholder communities for a workshop, they conducted an interactive conjoint survey where participants ranked the management alternatives to determine the relative importance of each attribute to overall preference.  Finally, using probit models and other statistical techniques, they assessed and compared the ranked preferences and acceptable tradeoffs to identify potential management strategies that would best serve Ruaha's diverse stakeholder community.

Findings show that there is little agreement among these different stakeholders about the best development strategies and investment opportunities in the Ruaha area, a major concern for developing sustainable management policies perceived as beneficial to community and district level needs.  At the local level, participants ranked investments in farmer's cooperatives, loans and capacity building as paramount, while NGOs and district government officials placed greater emphasis on investments in health and education infrastructure.  Developing sustainable and acceptable management policies for the Ruaha Landscape to promote conservation while also improving livelihoods will need to reconcile these diverse needs, facing tough tradeoffs between short-term gains and long-term impact.

Perhaps most critical though, is improving communication and information sharing among all stakeholders in the area and building foundations for trust across groups.  Masozera's study produced a spark for improving inter-group communication in Ruaha, and the conjoint analysis workshop provided an ideal platform to bring these groups together and highlight the diversity of voices and needs.  The next steps are to build on this foundation by drawing on the insight provided by the workshop and working collaboratively towards the formulation of regional development plans.

 You can find a link to the full article at Environmental Management here.  

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.   

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..."