The Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center is home to programs and projects doing amazing work to advance the health of wildlife in balance with people and the environment around the world. Our partners and supporters are vital to that mission, so please know that we thank you as you browse these highlights from the past year. Thank you for an amazing 2017! We look forward to building on our work in the year ahead.

2017 was a year of tremendous accomplishments for our SeaDoc Society. SeaDoc provided critical science in support of pinto abalone recovery, investigated contaminants in edible kelp, provided timely information for regional stakeholders after a farmed salmon escape, planned recovery for endangered tufted puffins, and created a new tool for tracking killer whale health. Due to the success of its Salish Sea Forever fundraising campaign, SeaDoc is doubling its impact to advance the health of the Salish Sea under the guidance of Regional Director, Markus Naugle, and longtime Science Director Dr. Joe Gaydos. SeaDoc will soon publish an educational book for 5th and 6th graders and launch their "Junior SeaDoctors" program to move young people into action. 

As domestic oil production has increased, crude oil is now routinely being shipped to California’s refineries by rail, increasing the potential for spills on land that impact a wide variety of terrestrial wildlife. In response to this growing threat, our Oiled Wildlife Care Network, led by Dr. Mike Ziccardi, bolstered its inland preparedness in 2017, most notably through a full-deployment drill in the Feather River Canyon, where more than 80 people from the OWCN spent two days simulating oiled wildlife response in the wake of a train derailment. The OWCN also increased its international reach in 2017, including partnering with Massey University in New Zealand on an online Oiled Wildlife Response Training program to better prepare wildlife response teams around the world.

In 2017, our Latin America program, led by Dr. Marcy Uhart, responded to deadly disease outbreaks in endangered vicuña; guanaco and Andean deer in Argentina and Chile; and identified chronic stress indicators in southern right whale calves wounded by kelp gulls in Argentina. The team also worked on an innovative "packaging" law in Argentina to reduce marine debris; furthered wetland and waterfowl protection in Argentina through K-12 education; and released a documentary on the health impacts of hunting with lead ammunition. The team also developed tools to monitor the impact of plastics in albatrosses worldwide and formalized a collaboration with the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels to become a primary science advisor.

Many exciting stories emerged from the Wildlife Health Center’s Gorilla Doctors teams in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017. During a recent medical intervention, the veterinary team received unexpected assistance from the lead gorilla silverback Bukima, who kept the rest of his family at bay while our veterinarians worked quickly to remove a snare from a baby gorilla’s wrist. Another intervention involved a baby gorilla named Yalala, who was found after being trapped in a snare for a week. Her health was deteriorating fast and her foot had to be amputated—and yet, against all odds, Yalala has since made a remarkable recovery under the care of our veterinarians. Gorilla Doctors was also featured in an in-depth segment that aired nationally on 60 Minutes.

This year, the Wildlife Health Center welcomed a new partner center at the One Health Institute - the Planetary Health Center of Expertise, led by Dr. Woutrina Smith. This program, as part of the multi-campus UC Global Health Institute, focuses on the balance among the global systems of land, air, and water to sustain health for all. By leading courses in the classroom, online, and in the field, we are raising awareness about the looming challenges of climate change and rapidly growing populations. Planetary health-oriented scientists and stakeholders are working together to identify solutions (such as pollinator practices) that will help wildlife and human populations to foster resilience in the face of changing environments.

A group of excited students traveled to Rwanda and Tanzania this summer for the One Health Institute’s inaugural Rx One Health Summer Institute. Modeled on the long-running and successful Envirovet Summer Institute that was co-led by the Wildlife Health Center from 2000-2010, Rx One Health enrolled 22 veterinary students, veterinarians, public health professionals, ecologists, and molecular biologists from around the world in the intensive four-week course focused on One Health challenges related to wildlife health, planetary health, conservation, risk assessment, food safety, and community engagement. From seminars in classrooms to hands-on field exercises and campfires with pastoralists and villagers, the Rx One Health Summer Institute used a cross-cultural, immersion-based approach for One Health training.

In 2017, the Wildlife Health Center was pleased to select and enroll our first Free-ranging Wildlife Health Resident, Dr. Andrew DiSalvo. His appointment is part of a joint effort between the WHC and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). DiSalvo is spending the first year of his residency working at CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory alongside state wildlife veterinarians and biologists. This first-of-its-kind program in the United States joins the existing successful training programs that the WHC leads – namely its fourth-year veterinary student Wildlife Externship program as well as graduate student research support through its Phil and Karen Drayer Wildlife Health Center Fellowship program.

This year, the One Health Institute's California Raptor Center was successful in implementing substantial facility upgrades, as well as greatly increasing its visibility both in the region as well as throughout California. Thanks to generous support from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Class of 1967 and many individual donors, its museum was remodeled, and work is underway to replace several decades-old raptor enclosures with one new state-of-the-art structure. With the launch of its first official online newsletter and a revamped social media strategy, the California Raptor Center is building on its connection with community members and supporters to serve as the State’s center for raptor rehabilitation and health research.

In 2017, our California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project, an effort that encourages both the reporting of lost, abandoned and discarded fishing gear as well as the active removal of gear and other marine debris from near-shore waters, continued its excellent efforts. Specific achievements included working with Dungeness crab fishermen to recover pots off the Northern and Central California Coast as well as urchin harvesters who used SCUBA gear to remove 1,250 automobile tires from the ocean off Newport Beach, which had been used to construct an illegal artificial reef back in the 1980s.

The One Health Institute’s PREDICT Project, led by Dr. Jonna Mazet, is working with partners in 30 countries around the world to identify wildlife viruses of pandemic potential. This year, PREDICT staff safely and humanely sampled more than 25,000 bats, rodents, non-human primates, and other wild animals in places where the risk of wild animal-to-human transmission is high. In addition, PREDICT obtained samples from more than 4,000 people coming into close contact with wildlife to better understand drivers of viral spillover. Of many important discoveries this year, PREDICT confirmed that wild bats are the worldwide reservoir for coronaviruses (such as SARS and MERS), and that coronavirus diversity highly correlates with bat species diversity, suggesting that these viruses coevolved with their bat hosts.

In 2017, the Wildlife Health Center welcomed Dr. Jenessa Gjeltema as Assistant Professor of Zoological Medicine.  In addition to overseeing the curriculum and providing clinical services to the Sacramento Zoo, she is conducting research evaluating the health effects of environmental plastic contamination. Through his appointment with the Wildlife Health Center, Dr. Ray Wack serves as the Veterinary Director of the Sacramento Zoo, where he continues to emphasize the Zoo’s focus on conservation, education, and animal welfare. Dr. Wack's current research focuses on the health of free-ranging giant garter snakes and viral disease in red pandas. For significant achievements in his field, Dr. Wack was inducted as a Diplomate of the European College of Zoological Medicine

The Marine Ecosystem Health Lab, which is part of the One Health Institute and led by Dr. Tracey Goldstein, tested approximately 1,200 samples from more than 1,000 marine mammals in 2017. These analyses supported routine diagnostic testing for the national marine mammal stranding networks, zoos and aquaria, as well as assisted in investigations into unusual mortality events affecting marine mammals in the US. The Lab was involved in a number of studies, including the detection of a new cetacean morbillivirus in striped dolphins, examining morbillivirus exposure in cetaceans in the Gulf of Mexico as compared to a strain affecting cetaceans on the US East Coast, studying the role viruses played in deaths of Galapagos sea lions, and helping to investigate the cause of a mass stranding of pilot whales in Hawaii.

Browse a list of 2017 publications produced by Wildlife Health Center faculty and our affiliates. It was an incredible year featuring some amazing and diverse work! 


Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center
University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616