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World expert to join Zoo and Unitec for symposium

20 June 2005


World expert to join Zoo and Unitec for ground-breaking symposium

The world’s foremost authority on Conservation Medicine, Dr Alonso Aguirre, will join New Zealand scientists and other overseas scientists in Auckland next month for this country’s first ever symposium on Conservation Medicine.

Science-based professionals from all over New Zealand will converge on Unitec New Zealand’s Mt Albert campus for the symposium from 7 – 8 July, which will be a hot spot for information exchange and collaboration.

The increasing threat of wildlife diseases – to people, domestic animals, and New Zealand’s unique native species, has prompted the creation of such a forum.

Conservation medicine is a new discipline that focuses on the links between the health of the environment and the health of people and animals. The two-day symposium, to be opened by Conservation Minister, the Hon. Chris Carter, is being jointly hosted by Auckland Zoo and Unitec New Zealand, and will, for the first time, bring together scientists working in human, animal and environmental health sectors. The aim is to share information and develop a plan for increased collaboration.
“Disease is becoming an increasingly critical factor threatening our native wildlife,” says Auckland Zoo senior veterinarian Dr Richard Jakob-Hoff, who has pioneered baseline health screening and disease risk assessment for native birds and reptiles.

“But it’s not just wildlife that are affected. Wildlife populations, that appear healthy themselves, are also increasingly implicated as a reservoir for diseases that can threaten the health of people and domestic animals. Recent examples include Avian Flu, SARS, and West Nile Virus.

“In recent times a Salmonella epidemic in New Zealand’s sparrows spread to domestic animals and caused severe, and in some cases, fatal, disease in people. These diseases threaten our lives, our economy and our way of life, and it’s high time we recognised that there are strong connections between what we do to the environment, and what happens to our health and the health of our animals as a consequence,” says Dr Jakob-Hoff.

Keynote speaker Dr Alonso Aguirre, a pioneer in Conservation Medicine, is the Director of Conservation Medicine at the Wildlife Trust, Pallisades, New York – a role that has seen him brief the US Congress, administration and federal agency leaders. He is also senior author of “Conservation Medicine: Ecological Health in Action” (2002).

In this, his first visit to New Zealand, Dr Aguirre will play a key role in focusing symposium participants on the application of a conservation medicine framework within a New Zealand context. In addition to his symposium lecture, Dr Aguirre will also be giving two public lectures (in Auckland and Wellington) about the growing evidence that the ecological integrity of marine ecosystems is increasingly under threat.

Dr Aguirre says “unprecedented numbers of emerging and re-emerging diseases such as brucellosis in dolphins, aspergillosis in coral reefs, fibropapillomatosis in sea turtles and morbillivirus infections linked to large-scale marine mammal die-offs have been documented in recent times in the marine environment.”

Also addressing participants will be Dr Kristin Warren, Lecturer in Wildlife and Zoo Medicine at West Australia’s Murdoch University, and currently the only person in Australasia teaching a post-graduate course in Conservation Medicine. She will be sharing her experiences with other educators to encourage the development of courses in Conservation Medicine in this country.

Unitec researcher Professor Natalie Waran is hopeful the conference will lead to the development of more effective strategies to combat and prevent newly emerging diseases by increasing the exchange of information by people working in environmental, human and animal health fields.

“Unitec staff already work closely with the Auckland Zoo in delivering programmes such as the Bachelor of Applied Animal Technology.” With the zoo establishing the New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine in 2006, she envisaged a continued collaboration across a broad sphere of shared interests.


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