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, informal talks between Paul Tavernier (then: Ghent University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine), Paul Heyman (then: Reference Center for Hantaviruses and Research Laboratory for Vector-Borne Diseases, Queen Astrid Military Hospital, Belgian Army) and Stefan Roels (then: Operational Direction Interactions and Surveillance, Veterinary and Agricultural Research Centre, VAR) resulted in the creation of a working group for the study and monitoring of wildlife diseases in Belgium. Very soon the enthusiasm of this triumvirate was reinforced by others from the VAR, the Belgian Armed Forces, the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Liege, the Institute of Tropical Medicine, and the Research Institute for Nature and Forest.
Since 2019, the renewed BWDS board is composed of eight 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 Stefan Roels (DGZ), Paul Tavernier (WILDPAD), Leen Claes (VUB), Kristof Baert (INBO), Famke Jansen (ITG), Marianthi Ioannidis (Vet. Faculty, Utrecht), Myriam Logeot (FASFC) and Rosario Volpe (ULiège). Membership of the BWDS is granted automatically to those having participated to a BWDS Symposium.
As well at the national as at the international level, the BWDS is interwoven in a vast network of individuals, institutions and organisations active in wildlife disease related matters.
Each year, the BWDS aims to organize one to three study days on various wildlife related topics, open to all interested persons. Each time there is a collaboration with a different partner institute or organization, which hosts the meeting on its settlement. In general, there are three to four presentations, followed by a lunch break and an afternoon activity. The latter may include, for example, a visit of the host’s institute and occupations, an outdoor activity, an extra presentation or others. Reports about past study days can be found elsewhere on the website.
The highlights of the BWDS activities are the biennial Symposia. Every two years we organize a Symposium on a specific central theme, for which we invite a number of foreign and Belgian speakers with specific expertise in the subject. Apart from the presentations illustrating the general theme, a limited number of shorter “slots” are preserved for those desiring to present their work, even if not corresponding to the central theme. Moreover, posters covering topics related to wildlife health in the broadest sense can be presented.
A first Joint Symposium with the Dutch Society for Wildlife Health (DSWH) was organized in October 2016: ”Wildlife crossing borders”. At the moment of writing we are working towards a second Joint BWDS / DSWH Symposium to be held in October 2020.
More information about our Symposia can be found elsewhere on the website.
From March 2008 to March 2010, BWDS members were active in a federal government granted project called WILDSURV, in which basic steps for the organization of a national wildlife diseases surveillance scheme were proposed. An electronic first-line risk assessment system for prioritization of wildlife-borne pathogens in Belgium and its regions was developed. Simultaneously, the BWDS was involved in the start-up of the wildlife disease working group of the FAVV/AFSCA, officially responsable for the notification of wildlife diseases to the OIE, and including responsables of both the Flemish and the Walloon goverments, wildlife being a regional competency
The BWDS is an independently working voluntary organisation, not related to any official instance, uniting scientists and practitioners in order to promote research, disseminate data and 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 monitoring of unusual wildlife mortalities and the basic surveillance of known pathogens and emerging diseases, a main objective is to enhance awareness among scientists and citizens, about the broader picture in which wildlife diseases have to be situated. Wildlife diseases are a part of a complex ecological context, and their study is undissolubly connected to concerns for biodiversity and conservation of species and their habitats.
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. Citizen science has proven to be a powerful tool in wildlife disease surveillance, by which we advocate a free and easy interaction and information sharing with anybody willing to contribute or having particular questions.