Health and welfare in reintroductions; lessons from small mammals.

My primary research interests involve the pathogenic, parasitic, welfare and stress implications associated with reintroduction programmes for small mammals.

Conservation efforts are making increasing use of captive breeding and reintroduction programs, however, these initiatives often fail, and there has hitherto been little attempt to explain the causes. In addition, there are ethical questions to be addressed about all aspects of the management of animals that are bred, or held, in captivity before release. An important element of the context for the judgement of these ethical issues is the likelihood of success of these reintroduction initiatives.

There is therefore an urgent need to establish reliable measures for assessing the likely impact of release on the welfare of captive-bred animals, and to determine how such measures, if employed before release, might predict the successful establishment of individuals in the wild. It is also necessary to monitor the impact of release on changes in parasite loads and pathogenesis. Until these issues are tackled it will remain impossible to provide appropriate advice on pre-release housing and health screening, and post-release monitoring.

My research utilises the water vole, currently subject to a wide range of reintroduction programmes within the UK, as a model species. Scientific benefits arising from my project include developments in improvements in refinement of techniques, with wide-ranging practical benefits of identifying areas within captive-breeding and reintroductions where methodology alterations might improve success. My work will develop guidelines for improving the welfare of captive-bred and translocated animals, both pre- and post release, the findings of which will be made available to practitioners. These will ultimately assist policy-makers in formulating evidence-based regulatory mechanisms for reintroduction schemes which are likely to become more common and diverse.