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. 

PREDICT’s Ethiopia Team Learns Bat Sampling in Tanzania

In East Africa, HALI is helping partners from Addis Ababa University, the implementing partner for the PREDICT project in Ethiopia, learn safe capture and sampling of bats as part of a growing network of African scientists working to improve detection and prevention of emerging pandemic threats. The slideshow below gives a great look at the training: 

The PREDICT Ethiopia team met Zikankuba Sijalia, HALI's PREDICT project coordinator, at a recent global meeting and plans were made to bring the Ethiopian team to Tanzania to learn from Dr. Popo himself (the bat doctor, Zika's superhero name), who is quickly becoming one of the premier bat experts in the East Africa region. 

HALI's project scientist Chris Kilonzo took some amazing photos of the first day of training, conducted in Morogoro, Tanzania at a fruit bat roosting site in trees near the campus of Sokoine University, one of the sites the team is surveying as part of HALI's Viral Sharing project.

The team will continue to work with their new Ethiopian friends on bat and non-human primate sampling in the Udzungwa Mountains over the next few weeks. According to the HALI team, the Ethiopian scientists are a quick study and after only a few days in Tanzania are already mastering the skills and techniques for bat surveillance. Back home in Ethiopia, the Addis Ababa team will use these newly acquired skills in surveillance activities targeting bats as potential hosts for MERS Coronavirus and other potentially zoonotic viruses. 

Look out for more news on Dr. Popo and the HALI team soon as field activities ramp up!

Photos by Chris Kilonzo. Story by David Wolking. 

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.  

PREDICT's Pretty Face...

- David Wolking

The PREDICT team has been working with partner HealthMap for several years to develop a public platform for the release of our wildlife surveillance and viral testing results.  One of the challenges in rolling out a public platform featuring information on wildlife species, their locations at the time of sampling, and any findings from our diagnostic tests looking at RNA viruses is government approval. PREDICT is a big project, active in 20 countries worldwide (give or take depending on permit status), and establishing data sharing and release policies with government ministries is no easy task.  Developing a platform for the display of PREDICT data after securing government approval, a platform that meets the needs of all partners is also a challenge.  

PREDICT's new public face on  HealthMap .  Here you can see the overview of surveillance progress in Tanzania as of early December 2013.  Our HALI team has been busy sampling wildlife throughout the country at areas we have identified as high-risk for human-animal contact and potential disease transmission.

PREDICT's new public face on HealthMap.  Here you can see the overview of surveillance progress in Tanzania as of early December 2013.  Our HALI team has been busy sampling wildlife throughout the country at areas we have identified as high-risk for human-animal contact and potential disease transmission.

So this month when HealthMap went live with a soft release of our PREDICT site featuring surveillance locations and info we were very excited.  

Check out PREDICT's pretty public face on HealthMap at healthmap.org/predict

For the first time our PREDICT teams could share the fruits of 4+ years of labor sampling bushmeat and capturing bats, rodents, and non-human primates with our partners and the global public.  Even better, we could finally demonstrate how our diagnostic findings would be publicly displayed to government partners and ministries, making discussions on data approval for public release more straightforward.

So how does it work?

Let's check out the functionality of the new PREDICT HealthMap site using Tanzania as an example...

As implementing partner for PREDICT in Tanzania, our HALI team led by Drs. Zikankuba Sijali and Liz Vanwormer has been very proactive.  In just 3 years they identified multiple locations as high-risk for human-wildlife contact, mapped them according to priority for wildlife disease transmission and emergence, and hit the road.  This surveillance road trip is nicely captured by PREDICT's HealthMap site, where surveillance activities are clustered by geographic location.  You can click around on the country map using basic Google Maps zoom functions, zero in on the "bubbles" highlighting surveillance activity, and explore the different species our team has sampled based on location.  Eventually as we clear our diagnostic results with the government of Tanzania, you will be able to view the RNA viruses we detected in animals at these sites, along with helpful links to what our findings mean for wildlife and public health.

An example of  PREDICT surveillance progress  on our HealthMap site from Tanga.  The HALI team identified Tanga as an area of surveillance priority due to the presence of large bat caves (Amboni Caves) where ecotourists frequently encounter bats and other roosting sites for fruit bats near the Indian Ocean coastline.

An example of PREDICT surveillance progress on our HealthMap site from Tanga.  The HALI team identified Tanga as an area of surveillance priority due to the presence of large bat caves (Amboni Caves) where ecotourists frequently encounter bats and other roosting sites for fruit bats near the Indian Ocean coastline.

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.

 

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....

 

 

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.

 

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!

 

 

 

Human Glue

- David Wolking

Recently the UC Davis team was asked to present on "One Health in Action" at the University of California Global Health Institute's (UCGHI) Global Health Day.  The goal: communicating what it's like to run a project like PREDICT, a project operating in 20 countries globally, establishing a systematic yet flexible disease surveillance system for wildlife.  So what does it take?   What is the glue holding this model together?  A lot of communication...

HALI is the home of PREDICT in Tanzania, and thanks our goodwill and collaborative nature, we spend quite a bit of time communicating with our partners in the US and Tanzania.  As a tribute to human glue and the endless hours we spend on Basecamp, in Skype meetings, and through SMS and mobile phone contact keeping HALI and PREDICT moving steadily along, I put together this slide, featuring Zika our HALI coordinator for PREDICT in Tanzania, and Benard, our country coordinator for PREDICT in Uganda.

You'll be able to find the UC Davis team's presentation from Global Health Day online soon.  I'll post the link as soon as it is available.

 

Just a few communication tools we use at the HALI project...