Who are we?

Established in 1981 by the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM), the Wildlife Health Research Fund (WHRF) is a college-based research organization that encourages and supports applied research and training in the health and disease of free-ranging wildlife.

The college's research teams have conducted studies on a variety of topics including stress physiology, aquatic and wildlife toxicology, environmental effects on the developmental and reproductive processes in vertebrates, epidemiological investigations of non-infectious and infectious diseases, the ecology of parasites, and the effect of environmental contaminants on the health of wildlife.

Researchers and facilities



What do we do?

The WCVM created the Wildlife Health Research Fund to encourage and support applied research and training in health and disease of free-ranging wildlife. The expertise and knowledge gained is now applied to wildlife conservation and management, public health and food safety in Western Canada and elsewhere.

Wildlife health news


Current research

Research team: Dr. Maarten Voordouw, Cody Koloski, Georgia Hurry, Arial Wei and Pini Zvionow, WCVM

Lyme borreliosis is a tick-borne zoonotic disease of wildlife that’s caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto (Bbss), which is rapidly invading Canada’s ecosystems. Bbss infects mice and other small mammals, and these infected hosts help to transmit the pathogen to black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks) — key vectors for the bacterium. The lifetime transmission of Bbss from infected hosts to ticks can vary greatly among wildlife species, but scientists still don’t know why.

The WCVM team will use controlled infection experiments with strains of Bbss to study the factors that determine its transmission success from infected hosts to feeding ticks.  The researchers will manipulate the abundance of B. burgdorferi in host tissues by using both normal immunocompetent mice and mice with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) — a genetic disorder where the affected mice lack an adaptive immune system (one with no white blood cells or antibodies).

This study will investigate whether the spirochete abundance in the host tissues and a good antibody response are factors in the lifetime transmission of Bbss, which will lead to a better understanding of the factors that determine the epidemiology of this important tick-borne pathogen.

Research team: Dr. Barbara Ambros, Dr. Isabelle Desprez, Dr. Bruna Hech and Dr. Jennifer Pelchat, WCVM

Pronghorn is a type of even-toed, hoofed and horned animal native to North America. The species is known as the fastest Western Hemisphere land mammal, capable of reaching speeds of 98 kilometres per hour. However, they are also reportedly difficult to reliably immobilize. 

Typically, immobilizers are a combination of potent opioid-based drugs mixed with a sedative or tranquillizer. With the decreased availability of potent opioids, wildlife researchers need alternatives to effectively immobilize these animals. 

The WCVM research team will compare and analyze two methods — butorphanol-azaperone-medetomidine and etorphine-medetomidine-midazolam-azaperone — in immobilizing captive pronghorn. Using these two methods of immobilization, the research team will measure cardiopulmonary parameters and collect blood for blood gas analysis from adult pronghorn as well as record the time it takes for the animals to be immobilized and recover. The team will also measure sedation levels and recovery quality after immobilization reversal.

Research team: Dr. Karen Machin, Breanne Murray and Brenna Piecowye, WCVM

Wild waterfowl are exposed to a number of environmental stressors such as altered breeding habitat and disrupting food supply related to climate change and habitat loss. Animals react to stress differently, including physical symptoms. The hormone corticosterone (CORT) has been used to monitor the impact of stress but may not always be the most accurate. A better approach may be to examine CORT along with metabolic responses to identify stress-related physiological changes.

In this study, researchers used captive mallard ducks as models. Mallard ducks are a philopatric species, meaning that they return to hatching areas and are more likely to be affected by changes to their environments. 

A slow-release pellet containing stress hormone CORT was implanted under the skin of one group of ducks to simulate chronic stress. The other group was given a placebo. Fecal samples will be collected before and after implantation to investigate gut flora and metabolic changes in ducks exposed to stressors.

This study’s results, which are currently being analyzed, will help to shine light on the physiological stress response of waterfowl, which in turn may help to monitor stress in wildlife populations.

Past research

Here is a list of research publications from this study:

Buhler KJ, Fernando C, Hill JE, Galloway T, Carriere S, Fenton H, Fauteux D, Jenkins E. "Combining deep sequencing and conventional molecular approaches reveals broad diversity and distribution of fleas and Bartonella in rodents and shrews from Arctic and Sub-Arctic ecosystems." Parasites & Vectors. Oct. 2022. 15(1):366.

Buhler KJ, Agar B, Galloway T, Alisauskas R, Jenkins E. "Arctic fleas are not fussy eaters: Bartonella bacteria may hitchhike between birds and mammals in a tundra ecosystem." Arctic Science. July 2022. doi: 10.1139/as-2022-0014.

Here is a research publication from this study:

Buhler K, Bouchard É, Elmore S, Samelius G, Jackson J, Tomaselli M, Fenton H, Alisauskas R, Jenkins E. "Tularemia above the treeline: climate and rodent abundance influences exposure of a sentinel species, the Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), to Francisella tularensis." Pathogens. Dec. 2022. 12(1):28.

Here is a list of research publications from this study:

Kolapo T, Hay A, Gesy KM, Frey CF, Rothenburger JL, Joffe DJ, Spotswood D, Huang Y, Massolo A, Peregine AS, Hill JE, Jenkins EJ. "Canine alveolar echinococcosis: an emerging and costly introduced problem in North America." Transboundary and Emerging Diseases. Jan. 2023.

Kolapo T, Bouchard E, Wu J, Bassil M, Revell S, Wagner B, Acker JP, Jenkins E. "Copro-polymerase chain reaction has higher sensitivity compared to centrifugal fecal flotation in the diagnosis of taeniid cestodes, especially Echinococcus spp. in canids." April 2021. Veterinary Parasitology. 292:109400.

Schurer JM, Tsybina P, Gesy KM, Kolapo TU, Skinner S, Hill JE, Jekins EJ. "Molecular evidence for local acquisition of human alveolar echinococcosis in Saskatchewan, Canada." Journal of Infectious Diseases. 23(6):1015-1018.

Here is a list of research publications from this study:

Sharma R, Parker S, Elkin B, Mulders R, Branigan M, Pongracz J, Godson D, Gajadhar A, Jenkins E. "Risk factors and prevalence of antibodies for Toxoplasma gondii in diaphragmatic fluid in wolderines (Gulo gulo) from the Northwest Territories, Canada." April 2019. Food and Waterborne Parasitology. 15:e00056.

Sharma R, Parker S, Al-Adhami B, Bachand N, Jenkins E. "Comparison of tissue (heart vs. brain) and serological tests (MAT, ELISA and IFAT) for detection of Toxoplasma gondii in naturally infected wolverines (Gulo gulo) from the Yukon." March 2019. Food and Waterborne Parasitology. 15:e00046.

Here is a list of research publications from this study:

Bachand N, Ravel A, Leighton P, Stephen C, Ndao M, Avard E, Jenkins E. "Serological and molecular detection of Toxoplasma gondii in terrestrial and marine wildlife harvested for food in Nunavik, Canada." April 2019. Parasites and Vectors. 12(1):155.

Bachand N, Ravel A, Leighton P, Stephen C, Iqbal A, Ndao M, Konecsni K, Fernando C, Jenkins E. "Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) as sentinels for parasitic zoonoses, Toxoplasma gondii and Trichinella nativa in the northeastern Canadian Arctic." Oct. 2018. International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife. 7(3):391-397.

Here is a research presentation from this study:

Luck K, Wagner B, Schurer J, Sharma R, Harms NJ, Jung T, Kukka P, Elkin B, Mulders R, Branigan M, Pongracz J, Jenkins E. "Parasites of wolverines (Gulo gulo) from northwestern Canada." Presented at the Widlife Disease Association 65th Annual International conference, Cortland, N.Y., U.S.A., July 31 to Aug. 5, 2016.

Here is a list of research publications from this study:

Elmore S, Huyvaert KP, Bailey LL, Iqbal A, Su C, Dixon BR, Alisauskas RT, Gajadhar AA, Jenkins EJ. "Multi-scale occupancy approach to estimate Toxoplasma gondii prevalence and detection probability in tissues: an application and guide for field sampling." Aug. 2016. International Journal for Parasitology. 46(9):563-70.

Elmore S, Samelius G, Al-Adhami B, Huyvaert K, Bailey L, Alisauskas R, Gajadhar A, Jenkins EJ. "Estimating Toxoplasma gondii exposure in Arctic foxes while navigating the imperfect world of wildlife serology." Jan. 2016. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 52(1):47-56.

Elmore S, Samelius G, Fernando C, Alisauskas RT, Jenkins EJ. "Evidence for Toxoplasma gondii in migratory vs. non-migratory herbivores in a terrestrial Arctic ecosystem." June 2015. Canadian Journal of Zoology. doi: 10.1139/cjz-2015-0078.

Here is a list of research publications from this study:

Nallar R, Papp Z, Leighton FA, Epp T, Pasick J, Berhane Y, Lindsay R, Soos C. "Ecological determinants of avian influenza virus, West Nile virus and avian paramyxovirus infection and antibody status in blue-winged teal (Anas discors) in the Canadian prairies." Journal of Wildlife Diseases. Jan. 2016. 52(1):33-46.

Nallar R, Papp Z, Epp T, Leighton FA, Swafford SR, DeLiberto TJ, Dusek RJ, Ip HS, Hall J, Berhane Y, Gibbs SEJ, Soos C. "Demographic and spatiotemporal patterns of avian influenza infection at the continental scale and in relation to annual life cycle of a migratory host." PLOS One. June 2015. 10(6):e0130662.

Here is a list of research publications from this study:

Gesy K, Jenkins E. "Introduced and native haplotypes of Echinococcus multilocularis in wildlife in Saskatchewan, Canada." July 2015. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 51(3):743-8.

Gesy K, Schurer JM, Massolo A, Liccioli S, Elkin BT, Alisauskas R, Jenkins EJ. "Unexpected diversity of the cestode Echinococcus multilocularis in widlife in Canada." April 2014. International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife. 3(2):81-7.

Schurer J, Gesy KM, Elkin BT, Jenkins EJ. "Echinococcus multilocularis and Echinococcus canadensis in wolves from Western Canada." Feb. 2014. Parasitology. 141(2):159-63.


Support for the WHRF comes from a range of sources including national, provincial and territorial wildlife organizations, corporations, foundations and individual donors.

When you support the WHRF, you support health research of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish in Canada's western and northern regions.

Click here to donate to the Wildlife Health Research Fund (WHRF). 

Jumbotron photo credit: iStockPhoto.com (mirceax).


For more information about the Wildlife Health Research Fund, contact: 

Research and Graduate Studies Office
Western College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Saskatchewan
52 Campus Drive, Saskatoon, SK   S7N 5B4   
Main contact email address: wcvm.research@usask.ca

Click here to donate to the Wildlife Health Research Fund.

For more information about giving, contact: 

Alumni and Development Office

Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM)
University of Saskatchewan
52 Campus Drive
Saskatoon, SK   S7N 5B4