Much of the general and species specific advice and guidance on disease avoidance or biosecurity and antimicrobial stewardship on this website will apply to wildlife sanctuaries and wildlife rescue centres and also, to some extent, to cat and dog shelters and zoos.

Wildlife sanctuaries are located throughout the length and breadth of the UK, including Scotland, and every year thousands of sick, injured, orphaned and displaced wild species are rescued, sometimes by ambulance services. The rescued wild animals, birds and marine mammals are then rehabilitated and released back to the wild, where possible. In Scotland a central rescue facility is run by Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which provides advice and educational information on rescues and releases

Many wildlife species may be protected by legislation and wildlife are important sentinels, as many infectious and important diseases for humans and domestic animals, including new and emerging diseases, may have a wildlife reservoir.

Wild animals will not normally have been exposed to antimicrobials (antibiotics, antivirals, anthelmintics, coccidiostats and antifungals).

Wildlife species may also be indicators of environmental antimicrobial resistance or AMR (e.g. seals). Evidence has emerged recently that hedgehogs are the source of mecC methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (Larsen et al 2022  Nature). It is therefore conceivable that wildlife may be the source of further AMR elements that are yet to emerge.


Potential risks

Available resources will dictate operational management to a large extent, and this in turn will affect ability to manage the specific potential risks.

  • Arrivals of animals (wild animals, birds or sea mammals) which may be chronically ill, injured, weak, tired, stressed owing to translocation and unaccustomed to housing or handling, and may be carrying underlying diseases which make them prone to further infections.
  • Reactive, unpredictable nature of these arrivals, which may lead to unavoidable relative overcrowding and understaffing.
  • Difficulty in provision of species-appropriate accommodation.
  • Carriage into the centres of diseases of unknown origin or severity.
  • Potential contact of species which might be unlikely under natural conditions, also overcrowding of the same or closely related species, with possibility of transfer of resistant organisms.
  • Indirect transfer of organisms via staff.
  • Inability to properly clean and disinfect accommodation.
  • Transit of many and varied species of animals and birds so increased risk of bacterial and other infections may lead to high density, empirical use of broad spectrum antibiotics.
  • Risk of inappropriate and/or empirical use of antibiotics (and antimicrobials more broadly) as a result of lack of knowledge of species and clinical conditions involved.
  • Biosecurity risk of AMR carriage to humans and to other animals and their environments when animals, birds and sea mammals are released to the wild.


Actions to counter risks

Actions that should be undertaken to counter these risks include:

  • Improving awareness and training of staff on husbandry, biosecurity, hygiene & disease prevention, most effectively by developing these for each centre, taking into account unique risks and circumstances.
  • Avoiding overcrowding and stress wherever and however possible, as these may influence the animal’s microbiome and contribute to shedding of infectious agents such as Salmonella and Mycobacteria. This could potentially become a clinical problem for the group of animals treated and there is also potential for spread of resistant organisms to people and domestic animals.
  • Encourage optimal isolation, assessment, triage and treatment protocols, with veterinary follow up. Use antimicrobials only where clinically required, following carefully worded veterinary standard operating procedures or SOPs, or following direct veterinary assessment.
  • Where possible carry out culture and sensitivity, cytology and other appropriate testing prior to use of antimicrobials.
  • Use of specialist clinical, pathological and microbiological expert advice (for example, at labs and vet schools) for wildlife, moving towards dynamic advice and support following sampling, is desirable but has cost implications.
  • Education on cost-effective diagnosis (for example, cytology) and targeted diagnostics can minimise costs. Correct guidance for effective microbiological and pathological sampling is vital.
  • Staff can be trained in supportive treatment and nursing to avoid the unnecessary use of antimicrobials.