National Wildlife Health Center

...advancing wildlife and ecosystem health

Reporting Wildlife Mortality Events

If your agency is involved in a wildlife mortality event that is not reported, please contact the NWHC Field Epidemiology Team before sending any shipments: 608-270-2480,

For events in Hawaii or Pacific Islands contact Dr. Thierry Work, 808-792-9520,

Instructions for Collection and Shipment of Specimens

Download and fill out the Wildlife Mortality Reporting and Diagnostic Services Request Worksheet. Save the filled form as a PDF and email it to It is required for each shipment.

Follow the carcass collection and shipping instructions below (also available in PDF format, or video) and review the Diagnostic Case Submission Guidelines (PDF).

The following instructions should be used for collecting and shipping wildlife carcasses, carcass parts, and samples extracted from animals to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) in Madison, Wisconsin, to ensure adequate and well preserved specimens.

  • Complete the “Wildlife Mortality Reporting and Diagnostic Services Request Form” and email/fax it to the NWHC epidemiology team to initiate discussion of the case you would like to submit and get shipping approval. Packages will not be opened if form does not arrive first.
  • For most cases, NWHC prefers to receive fresh chilled specimens if they can be sent within 24-36 hours of collection or death, as freezing/thawing impedes isolation of some pathogens and causes tissue damage. As a general guideline: if you cannot call or ship within 24-36 hours, immediately freeze the animal(s) and keep frozen during shipment.
  • Specimens should be shipped 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, prior arrangements must be made. Email/fax shipment tracking number to NWHC.
  • 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. Use rubber, vinyl, or nitrile gloves when picking up sick or dead animals. If you do not have gloves, invert a plastic bag over your hand and use it as a glove to scoop specimen directly in to the 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. Record on carcass tags and “Wildlife Mortality Reporting and Diagnostic Services Request Form” which animals were euthanized.
  • Collect specimens that are representative of all species and geographic areas involved.
  • Suitable specimens should have intact body, eyes, and body cavity; have no maggots; and have no foul odors. 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 specimens or samples from animals that are too large to ship. Other specimens might also require unique collection and shipping instructions (e.g., amphibians, bats, snakes); contact NWHC.
  • 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 separate 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 list 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 individually bagged animal(s) 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).
    • Do not ship using dry ice.
  • Seal the 3rd bag with methods described for 1st bag.
  • Place the completed “Wildlife Mortality Reporting and Diagnostic Services Request Form” and return shipping label (if you want the cooler returned) in a Ziploc bag and tape to the inside lid of the cooler. NWHC cannot pay for shipping.
  • 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 information below to the outside of each cooler in a resealable pouch. Also attach “to” and “from” addresses and phone numbers directly to the cooler.
    • Address:
         Necropy Loading Dock
         National Wildlife Health Center
         6006 Schroeder Road
         Madison, WI 53711
    • From Address/Emergency Contact:
         Your Agency’s Address
         Your Phone Number
    • Supplementary Labels:
         Keep Cold
  • Mark the cooler with the appropriate information: (Download PDF version for printable marking labels)
    • Carcasses of animals that died of unknown causes:
    • Blood and tissue samples from dead or sick animals:
    • Blood and tissue samples from apparently healthy animals (hunter-killed, live captured):
  • Note the shipment tracking number in case packages are delayed.
  • These instructions cover shipping regulations for commercial carriers. 

Appendix: 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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Page Last Modified: Jun 20, 2018