The creation of the Belgian Wildlife Disease Society (BWDS) originated on the one hand from the perception of a lack of collaboration between workers in the field of wildlife diseases and on the other hand from a demand of the OIE for information concerning the follow up of wildlife diseases in Belgium.
At the beginning of 2004 some informal talks between Paul Tavernier (Ghent University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine), Paul Heyman (Reference Center for Hantaviruses and Research Laboratory for Vector-Borne Diseases, Queen Astrid Military Hospital, Belgian Army) and Stefan Roels (Operational Direction. Interactions and Surveillance, CODA/CERVA/VAR) resulted in creation of a working group for the study and monitoring of wildlife diseases in Belgium. Very soon the enthusiasm of this team was reinforced by others from the CODA/CERVA, the Belgian Armed Forces, the University of Liege, the Institute of Tropical Medicine, the Research Institute for Nature and Forest and the Nature Department of the Flemish Community.
The BWDS is an independently working organisation, not related to any official instance, uniting scientists and practitioners in order to promote research, disseminate data and to exchange information in the field of wildlife diseases in Belgium. The BWDS is open to biologists, ecologists, veterinarians, bio-engineers, officials and others actively working in -or interested in- the field of wildlife diseases in Belgium.
Next to gathering basic information about wildlife diseases on the Belgian territory, the main objectives are the monitoring of unusual wildlife mortalities and the surveillance of known pathogens and emerging diseases. Last but not least the BWDS aims to provide a forum and an information desk for anyone interested in wildlife diseases in Belgium or trying to find answers to particular questions in this field.
The BWDS board is composed of five people who communicate intensively with each other, in order to deal with all aspects of the functioning of the BWDS. The current board members are Paul Heyman (president), Stefan Roels and Paul Tavernier (vice-presidents), Leen Claes (secretary), Kristof Baert (website). Membership of the BWDS is granted automatically for two years for those having participated to the most recent BWDS Symposium.
As well at the national as at the international level the BWDS is interwoven in a vast network of institutions and organisations active in wildlife disease related matters, and with which regular interactions are maintained. Most of the Belgian institutions and organisations with an interest in wildlife diseases have one or more representatives in the BWDS general assembly.
Since 2003 the BWDS organizes two -open to all interested parties- study days on various wildlife related topics. The BWDS organises these days in collaboration with a designated partner, in the partner’s headquarters. These bi-annual study days are accredited by the Belgian Veterinary Order and consist of three or four presentations followed by a lunch break offered by BWDS. The afternoon session is devoted to a visit of the host’s installations and in-depth discussions with specialists on site. Reports concerning the past study days can be found further on the website. Every two years a BWDS Symposium on a specific topic is organized. BWDS invites a number of foreign specialist to open the topic to an -at least- European level. Moreover, posters covering topics related to wildlife health can be presented. More information about the symposia can be found further on the website.
From March 2008 to March 2010, BWDS members were active in a federal government granted project called WILDSURV in which the basic steps for the organization of a national wildlife diseases surveillance scheme were taken. An electronic first-line risk assessment system for prioritization of wildlife-borne pathogens in Belgium and its regions was developed. Existing structures to be integrated in surveillance networks were identified and new networks were started up.