From the Channel Island fox to an African antelope called the gerenuk, it is a diverse group of endangered animals that Palisade’s @RISK and PrecisionTree® are working to protect. The popular tools are being introduced to scientists and veterinarians by the IUCN-World Conservation Union’s Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. They are used in the group’s ongoing workshops to help conservationists identify and analyze the risks of disease in their efforts to protect endangered animals.
What makes the group’s use of @RISK and PrecisionTree unusual is that, while many businesses and researchers use Palisade software to deal with mountains of information, the conservationists use it to compensate for a lack of information. Disease transmission is a tricky business with many unknowns, and there is a sad lack of solid data on the diseases that occur naturally in wild populations. Add to all this the fact that many programs to rescue struggling species—reintroduction, captive breeding, creation of habitat corridors—involve moving surviving animals or transporting tissues for reproductive purposes. These programs, though well-intentioned, invariably expose the animals to additional risks of disease—uncertainties that would derail traditional analyses. But @RISK is perfectly suited to deal with them.
Dr. Douglas Armstrong
Henry Doorly Zoo
Dr. Douglas Armstrong of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is one of the leaders of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group’s workshop series. He says there are hundreds of conservation projects that need to account for the risks of disease. These risks have a great many sources, including naturally occurring diseases, diseases introduced by domestic animals, and immune system vulnerability in animals that are relocated in new surroundings. Other factors compound the risks, like fragmentation and resulting isolation of habitat, catastrophic climatic change, and loss of genetic diversity. These are just a few, and each of the risks varies in probability depending on the situation of the specific animal population. All of this makes for tricky modeling.
“What we needed,“ says Armstrong, “was a set of practical, comprehensive, broadly applicable tools to anticipate what the problems might be. I think we have that now, and @RISK and PrecisionTree are really key components in that set of tools. They are easy to learn, and they allow us to enter reasonable ranges of possible values rather than fixed estimates. It’s an effective approach to minimizing the risks of disease in our efforts to conserve endangered species.”