National Wildlife Health Center

...advancing wildlife and ecosystem health

Instructions for Reporting Wildlife Mortality Events

Contact your USGS Field Investigation Team (FIT) member before sending any shipments!

FIT CoverageIf your agency is involved in an event that is not reported, please contact:

  • Western U.S.: Barb Bodenstein, 608-270-2447,
  • Central U.S.: Dr. LeAnn White, 608-270-2491,
  • Eastern U.S.: Dr. Anne Ballmann, 608-270-2445,
  • Hawaii, Pacific Islands: Dr. Thierry Work, 808-792-9520,
  • Nationwide, single animal cases only: Jennifer Buckner, 608-270-2443,

Shipping Instructions

First download and fill out the Specimen History Form. It is required for each shipment.

Second either watch the shipping instructions video or follow the instructions below (also available in Microsoft Word format).

The following instructions should be used for collecting and shipping wildlife carcasses, carcass parts, and samples extracted from animals to the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) in Madison, Wisconsin, to insure adequate and well preserved specimens. For shipping instructions to the Honolulu Field Station, please contact Thierry Work (please see contact information above).

Freezing/thawing impedes isolation of some pathogens and damages tissues. NWHC prefers unfrozen specimens if they can be sent within 24-36 hours of collection or death. We will provide guidance on freezing samples on a case-by-case basis. As a general guideline: if you cannot call or ship within 24-36 hours, freeze the animal(s).

  • Contact FIT to get shipping approval and discuss shipping arrangements. Typically, ship specimens by 1-day (overnight) service, Monday through Wednesday, to guarantee arrival at NWHC before the weekend. If specimens are fresh and need to be shipped on Thursday or Friday, special arrangements can be made.
  • Email/fax history and tracking number to FIT. Packages will not be opened if history does not arrive first!
  • Use rubber, vinyl, or nitrile gloves when picking up sick or dead animals. If you do not have gloves, insert your hand into a plastic bag.
  • More than one disease may be affecting the population simultaneously. When possible, collect both sick and dead animals. Note behavior of sick animals before euthanizing.
  • Collect specimens that are representative of all species affected and geographic areas.
  • Collect the freshest dead specimens. Decomposed or scavenged carcasses are usually of limited diagnostic value. If you plan to collect animals in the field, take along a cooler containing ice to immediately chill carcasses.
  • Contact NWHC for assistance when collecting samples from animals that are too large to ship.
  • Collect animals under the assumption that an infectious disease or toxin is involved and other animals may be at risk. Protect yourself as some diseases and toxins are hazardous to humans.
  • Immediately attach a leg tag to each animal with the following information in pencil or waterproof ink:
    • Date collected
    • Species
    • Location (specific site, town, county, state)
    • Found dead or euthanized
    • Collector (name/address/phone)
    • Your reference #
  • Place each animal in a plastic bag, close, and seal the bag. Cover zipper bag closure with strapping or duct tape after sealing zipper.
  • Twist non-zipper bags closed, fold over on itself, and secure with package strapping or duct tape.
  • Place 1st bag inside a 2nd bag, close and seal. More than one individually bagged animal can be placed in the 2nd bag. This prevents cross-contamination of individual specimens and leaking shipping containers.
  • Tag the outside of 2nd bag and number of animals and type, date collected, location, and name of collector. Reminder order: TAG, BAG, BAG, TAG.
  • Use a hard-sided cooler in good condition for shipment. Close the drain plug of cooler and tape over inside. Line cooler with a thick bag (1 mil thickness, 3rd layer of bags).
  • Place absorbent material in the 3rd plastic bag to absorb any liquids that might leak during shipping. See appendix for examples of bags and absorbent materials.
  • Pack the individually bagged animal(s) that are contained within the 2nd sealed bag into the 3rd bag with enough FROZEN BLUE ICE PACKS or similar coolant to keep carcasses cold. Use enough coolant to keep samples chilled if there is a delay in delivery.
    • Blue ice (unfrozen) can be obtained at hardware, sporting goods, or grocery stores.
    • Wet ice can be used if frozen in a sealed plastic container (i.e., soda or water bottle).
  • Seal the 3rd bag with methods described for 1st bag.
  • Place the completed specimen history and return shipping label in a ziplock bag and tape to the inside lid of the cooler (if you want the cooler returned). NWHC CANNOT PAY FOR SHIPPING.
  • Using packing or duct tape, tape the cooler shut around the lid and at each end using a continuous wrap around the cooler.
  • Attach the shipping document (airbill) with the DOT information below to the outside of each cooler in a resealable pouch:
    • Address:
         National Wildlife Health Center
         Necropsy Loading Dock
         6006 Schroeder Road
         Madison, WI 53711
    • Emergency Contact:
         NWHC FIT emergency
    • Supplementary Labels:
         Keep Cold
  • Mark the cooler with the appropriate information: (Download MS Word version for printable marking labels)
    • Carcasses of animals that died of unknown causes:
      and UN 3373.
    • Blood and tissue samples from apparently healthy animals (hunter-killed, live captured):
    • Blood and tissue samples from dead or sick animals:
  • Note the tracking number in case packages are delayed.
  • These instructions cover federal shipping regulations for commercial carriers.


Example of bags available at large supermarkets (list not all inclusive)

Inner and second layer bags:

  • Hefty Big Bag – 22 gal
  • Ziplock Freezer – 1 gallon
  • Hefty Freezer – 1 gal
  • Ziplock Big Bag – 20 gallon
  • Hefty Jumbo – 2.5 gal
  • Glad Freezer – 1 qt, 2 qt, 1 gal

Third layer for cooler liner:

  • Hefty Cinch Sak (1.1 mil) – 33 and 39 gal
  • Glad Force Flex (1.05 mil) – 25 gal
  • Hefty Lawn and Leaf (1.1 mil) – 33 and 39 gal
  • Hefty Ultra Flex (1.3 mil) – 30 gal
  • House brand large trash (1.1 mil) – 30 gal
  • House Lawn - Leaf (1.2 mil) – 39 gal

Absorbent material:

  • Super absorbent packet or pads for water
  • Cellulose wadding
  • Paper towels
  • Cotton batting or cotton balls
  • Do not use packing peanuts or shredded paper.

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