While the U.S. Geological Survey celebrated its 125th anniversary, from 1879 to
2004, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center celebrated its 35th
anniversary, 1975 to 2010. In honor of these events, the National Wildlife Health
Center presents a brief history and a timeline of significant events from its past.
Wildlife health and ecosystem health go hand in hand. The National Wildlife Health Center
(NWHC) focuses on issues related to wildlife health, which includes a broad spectrum of concerns that also impact public health and domestic animal
health. Established in 1975, the NWHC was the first federal program devoted to
addressing wildlife disease problems, including responding to wildlife die-offs,
technical assistance in the diagnosis, prevention, and control of disease, as well
as disease research.
This timeline presents snapshots of significant events from NWHC's
history, as well as issues that we are currently addressing. Many items may
have a distinct beginning -- such as when the Center became involved with
chronic wasting disease and
West Nile virus -- but our involvement
and partnerships continue as we work to combat and control these and many other diseases.
Some wildlife diseases are well-known because of their potential effect on humans and
other animals, such as
West Nile virus, chronic
wasting disease, rabies, Lyme disease, and others. While some human diseases,
like avian influenza and SARS, are potential wildlife health issues. However,
other diseases remain obscure to the general public, but can devastate wildlife
populations. Combating wildlife disease emergence and re-emergence are top priorities
for the staff at the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC).
Devastating wildlife die-offs were the impetus for the creation of the National
Wildlife Health Laboratory in 1975.
Duck plague claimed over 40,000 waterfowl at a South Dakota Wildlife Refuge in January
1973. Avian botulism has
killed more than a million birds in localized outbreaks in one year.
Avian cholera has
killed more than 70,000 birds in just one outbreak. Large-scale
frog and tadpole die-offs
continue. West Nile virus
quickly spread across the continent after it was discovered in New York in 1999.
Fast response to events like these is essential. Investigating and diagnosing the
cause is key to preventing future problems. Specialists in wildlife disease have backgrounds
in veterinary medicine, pathology, virology, bacteriology, biochemistry, parasitology,
microbiology, and wildlife ecology. Laboratories at NWHC reflect these specialties and
are the places where researchers try to unlock the mysteries of disease mechanisms in
Under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), the NWHC began as an
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service laboratory that consolidated existing wildlife
disease expertise into a single program, focusing on technical assistance in the diagnosis,
prevention and control of disease, as well as on wildlife disease research. In 1996,
many Federal Department of Interior biological research laboratories in DOI were transferred
to the U.S. Geological Survey, which provided NWHC with new partnering opportunities
with other Federal, State, and international agencies that worked with free-ranging
wildlife. NWHC maintains an integrated balance between diagnostic investigations and
research, and has expanded its expertise from primarily a migratory bird and endangered
species disease lab to new areas of disease research and investigation, including health
of coral reefs, amphibians, fish and reptiles, and marine mammals.