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.  

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.

 

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... 

 

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)

 

 

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.

 

3rd Annual Ruaha Roundtable Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

Wish us luck! 

Secrets of the Batcave...

Most bat caves have more bats than toys... 

- David Wolking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this have to do with HALI?   

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

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

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

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

 

Roasted Mice

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

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

- David Wolking

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

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

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

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

 

Sampling Fruit Bats, Dar es Salaam

- David Wolking

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

 

So, you want to be a disease detective?

- David Wolking

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

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

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