New & Notable on Building Conservation Medicine Capacity to Protect Biodiversity in Latin America

Managing NGO, country: Wildlife Trust, United States.

Project Director: Alonso Aguirre

Synopsis: Emerging pathogens and the diseases they cause are increasing in Latin America and are negatively affecting wildlife, resulting in drastic changes in species abundance, which can affect ecosystem stability and resilience to changes in habitat and climate. It is not an exaggeration to state that pathogen pollution has become a major threat to biodiversity conservation in Latin America. Wildlife Trust proposes to address this impending crisis, to create the field and practice of conservation medicine in Latin America, beginning in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and Chile.  This will involve bringing together professionals in relevant health and natural science disciplines and lobbying governments and research institutes to create courses and build facilities for conservation medicine. Ultimately, we seek to change the paradigm of conservation in Latin America to include the concept of healthy ecosystems as the basis of human and wildlife well-being.

Donors: MarIsla Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Oak Foundation, Overbrook Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service – North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation.

Principal accomplishments: In Mexico we made significant progress in building a Center for Conservation Medicine, including the development of the first biosecurity level 3 lab. We trained a number of people and, with support of several institutions, will develop another center. Wildlife Trust has made a difference in how Mexico’s government perceives conservation medicine and disease emergence in a country of limited resources, a terrible bureaucracy and a deteriorating economy. Wildlife Trust has been the catalyzer for all these activities to happen during a tumbling government and under the pressure of several politicians seeking their own interests and safety. In Chile significant progress was made in the establishment of a center, including further development of an academic program in conservation medicine.

Lessons learned: This type of multidisciplinary research and training is both well-received and badly needed in the areas we are working. It is difficult because much of the infrastructure is lacking, but we are helping to build it from the ground up. Perhaps the most important result of this project has been the international and institutional collaborations generated with federal and state agencies, universities, research institutions, and NGOs. The project is truly multidisciplinary and has created long-term collaborations. In the end, this is the only way to succeed in solving today’s environmental problems.

Contact: 61 Route 9W, PO Box 1000; Palisades, NY 10964; Tel: +845/365-8334; Fax: +845/365-8177;;

Read more about this project in the Eco-Index:


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