The prevalence of wildlife trade in Lao PDR and the significant threat it poses to wildlife means that the priority of the Wildlife Health Team is to obtain and use information on diseases in wildlife, livestock and humans to reduce trade. This can be achieved by using science-based disease research to inform national policy and increase political will, as well as to counter traditional beliefs on the health benefits of consuming wildlife.The possibility of disease transmission between domestic animals and vulnerable wildlife populations may also represent a real threat to wildlife at landscape sites. Work to examine and counteract this threat is also needed.
The WCS Wildlife Health Team is involved in several projects in Lao PDR. Primarily, the team is working on the PREDICT project, part of the Emerging Pandemic Threats Program. This project aims to identify zoonotic diseases in traded wildlife that could have pandemic potential and therefore serious human health and economic impacts. The goal is to use the information to demonstrate the serious implications of wildlife trade and to support better enforcement on illegal wildlife trade. During this work, the team visits wildlife markets across the country and samples wildlife that is deemed high risk for zoonoses (primates, bats,rodents and civets). Whilst at the markets, surveys are conducted, recording species, volume and prices of traded wildlife. This data will be used to help build up a picture of the scale ofdomestic wildlife trade in Lao PDR and the threat it poses to protected species. The samples are then processed at laboratories. The Wildlife HealthTeam is helping to build capacity at a government lab in Lao PDR, with the aim that such progressive diagnostics can be conducted in country in the future.
The team is also involved in training staff at national protected areas in wildlife disease surveillance methods. The training is integrated into a large-scale training-of-trainers project, aiming to create a core group of NPA staff that can pass on skills to rangers on the ground. The disease training will be passed on to rangers, who will record dead and diseased wildlife in the NPAs, helping to build up a baseline database of wildlife mortality and monitor disease outbreaks.
The Wildlife Health Team also works in communities near national protected areas collecting data on hunting with the help of Lao university students. This information is fed back to landscape managers so that they can assess the degree of hunting and design appropriate conservation outreach campaigns.