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Circular 1401

National Wildlife Health Center

Why Bother About Wildlife Disease?

By Milton Friend

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (6.8 MB)Why Bother About Wildlife Disease?

In most developed countries, the maintenance of the numbers of wildlife1 is vested in the natural resource agencies of those countries. During earlier times, game species were the primary focus of natural resource agencies2,3 however, current wildlife conservation continues to transition towards a more holistic focus on biodiversity4 and environmental health5,6. Nevertheless, that transition lags behind in addressing wildlife disease in “…the struggle for existence between different forms of life…”.7 Thus, the primary objective of this presentation is to provide a pragmatic assessment of wildlife disease that is irrespective of one’s orientation towards wildlife conservation. A secondary objective is to highlight the changing role of disease over time as a wildlife conservation factor. That transition is relevant to the insights provided for current and future efforts focused on sustaining global biodiversity and desired levels of wildlife populations in nature.


1 Burnet, F.C., 1940, Natural history of infectious disease (1st ed): New York, The MacMillan Company, 310 p.
2 Leopold, A., 1933, Game management: New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 481 p.
Grange, W.B., 1949, The way to game abundance: With an explanation of game cycles: New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 365 p.
4 Van Dyke, F., 2008, Conservation biology: New York, McGraw Hill, 478 p.
5 Rapport, D., Constanza, R., Epstein, P.R., Gaudet, C., and Levins, R., eds., 1998, Ecosystem health: Malden, Massachusetts, Blackwell Science, Inc., 372 p.
6 Waltner-Toews, D., 2004, Ecosystem sustainability and health: A practical approach: New York, Cambridge University Press, 150 p.
7 Zinsser, H., 1935, Rats, lice, and history: Boston, Little, Brown and Company.

First posted December 29, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, National Wildlife Health Center
U.S. Geological Survey
6006 Schroeder Road
Madison, Wisconsin 53711-6223

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Suggested citation:

Friend, Milton, 2014, Why bother about wildlife disease?: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1401, 76 p.,

ISSN 2330-5703 (online)



Conversion Factors and Abbreviations

Points to Ponder

Personal Perspectives

Changing Times and Changing Needs

Population Impacts

A New World Has Dawned

Concluding Commentary


References Cited

Additional Reading


Appendix 1. Diseases Cited and Their Causative Pathogens

Appendix 2. Common and Scientific Names for Species Cited

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