Wildlife Health Laboratory

The Wildlife Health Laboratory (WHL), formerly the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory, was established in 1941 as mandated by Fish and Wildlife Code Section 1008 to conduct wildlife disease investigations. The mission of the WHL is to investigate, monitor, and manage wildlife population health issues in California. WHL staff provides expertise, training, and technical assistance to agency partners and staff in addressing a variety of wildlife health issues, including population health, disease surveillance, biological sampling, genetics research, wildlife rehabilitation, and human-wildlife conflict.

Wildlife Disease Surveillance

WHL conducts disease surveillance of wild populations to monitor pathogens of conservation concern in California, including viral, fungal, and parasitic infections.​​​​​​ Biological samples and other data are collected to analyze wildlife health, population trends, demographics, and more. Mortality reporting is one way to improve our ability to detect emerging health threats. You can help!

WHL staff also monitor disease outbreaks among feral domestic ducks and geese, exotic cervids, and game farm species. Disease surveillance efforts are often coordinated with research partners, federal, state, and local agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (APHIS) and California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory.

Wildlife Health Monitoring

Comprehensive baseline health data is needed to effectively conserve and manage native wildlife populations in California. Data collection techniques, such as biological sample collection, wildlife veterinarian exams, veterinary procedures, and necropsies, are valuable tools. WHL staff monitor wildlife population health using various population health indicators, such as:

  • Serosurveillance
  • Micronutrient levels
  • Parasitism
  • Body condition scoring
  • Fecundity (e.g., pregnancy checks)

One representative project is WHL’s large mammal serology archive. It is one of the largest archives of its kind in the United States.

Research Support

WHL staff conduct novel research using traditional, advanced, and innovative research techniques. Program areas specialize across various disciplines of the biological and social sciences. Research efforts emphasize the interdependence of environmental, human, and wildlife health. 

WHL staff regularly collaborate with academic, agency, and research partners to support complex studies, special projects, and testing not available to CDFW. Collaborative research partners include USGS National Wildlife Health Center, University of California (Davis) Wildlife Health Center, and the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory.

Helicopter Captures

WHL staff help coordinate helicopter captures for various CDFW scientific projects. During captures, animals are marked, radio-collared, and disease-tested to collect data. The information generated from these applied research efforts can help inform conservation and management decisions.

  • WHL provides capture expertise, coordination, personnel, and equipment; acquires and maintains specialized capture equipment, supplies and vehicles.
  • WHL researches and develops new, safer and more efficient wildlife capture and handling techniques and equipment.
  • Archived biological samples and capture records are retained for future and ongoing research.

Quantitative Ecology

In quantitative ecology, researchers apply advanced statistical tools to use wildlife survey data to answer ecological questions. This approach helps scientists and land managers to monitor wildlife population trends and plan effective conservation strategies. WHL staff in this specialized field consult on various statistical topics including: sampling, experimental design, spatial statistics, hierarchical modeling, and specialized applications (e.g., occupancy modeling, spatial capture recapture, R programming).

Key Analyses include:Camera survey detection of bobcats

  • How to account for uneven detection probabilities of different survey methods and different species under various conditions;
  • Modeling how wildlife abundance varies spatially with habitat, land use, and climate conditions.

Special Projects include:

  • Estimating the total statewide population sizes of deer, bobcat, and mountain lion using DNA-collection transects (scat), camera stations, and GPS-collar telemetry.
  • Designing multi-species surveys using cameras (e.g., carnivores, squirrels) and sound recorders (e.g., birds, bats) to evaluate the effects of drought, wildfire, and climate change on wildlife health and diversity.
  • Monitoring and mitigating potential adverse impacts to endangered species (e.g., Marbled Murrelet, California Tiger Salamander, Gaviota Tarplant) affected by proposed energy projects in California.

For more information, contact WHL Quantitative Ecologist, Dr. Brett Furnas.

Scientific Development

The Wildlife Health Laboratory (WHL) supports scientific development within and outside the Department. WHL staff offer technical assistance in statistical, quantitative and spatial analysis, genetics research, human dimensions research, and project design.

  • Conduct formal staff trainings for CDFW personnel on safe wildlife restraint and capture techniques, drug protocols for safely immobilizing animals, necropsy, disease surveillance and monitoring.
  • Provide technical assistance to federal, state, and local agencies, academic institutions, researchers, and other agency partners.
  • Provide presentations on wildlife population health, wildlife disease, wildlife capture and handling techniques, wildlife rehabilitation, human-wildlife interactions, and animal welfare.