GUNSTON, Va. – The old technique of a canary in a mine still holds true in the 21st century. Wildlife may be a better early warning system of the threat of biological hazards than man-made detectors, according to one local scientist.
Animals would be the first to get sick in an epidemic of anthrax, the plague, the Ebola virus or botulism. Paying attention to their response could provide a more timely alert than the most sophisticated technology.
“If we are tuned in and paying attention to the symptoms that can be manifested by these particular diseases, we may well provide the first early warning of a deliberate or inadvertent threat,” says Ed Clark, president of the Virginia Wildlife Center which runs a major animal hospital.
Many wildlife hospitals are now connected online so they can share information with people who monitor human health, says Clark.
“In many case the problems that cause these symptoms to show in wildlife can also affect people,” he says.
Clark says they can now report such illnesses to the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies which might provide an early warning of an attack before any impact on humans.