Limiting SARS-CoV-2 in Wildlife Rehabilitation

Apr 28, 2022 | Rehabilitation

Below is information from the NDMNRF (Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry) on how to help limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife rehabilitation settings. The last section is regarding changes made to the Conditions of the Wildlife Custodian Authorization. 

The Letter

Re: Notice of new requirements to help limit spread of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife

As part of the Government’s efforts in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to share some important information with you about the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes the COVID 19 illness) and safe wildlife handling practices.

For the past two years, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (NDMNRF) has been collaborating with multiple government agencies and One Health partners to monitor deer and other native wildlife for SARS-CoV-2.

In early 2022, the first cases of SARS-CoV-2 in free-ranging Ontario wildlife were detected in seventeen white-tailed deer samples taken in 2021 from southwestern Ontario. The deer showed no evidence of clinical illness and appeared healthy. Quebec, Saskatchewan, and several northeastern US states have also recently· detected SARSGoV-2 in white-tailed deer. 

The suspected origin of the SARS-CoV-2 emergence in the human population is by way of wildlife infected with the virus. Several animal families are known to be susceptible to the virus such as primates, cats, mustelids such as mink, deer mice, beavers and white-tailed deer. NDMNRF scientists working with Public Health Ontario, the Sunnybrook Research Institute, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and other science partners have linked a human case of SARS-CoV-2 to positive cases in deer in southwestern Ontario through genetic analysis. The findings indicate that the deer and the human case all demonstrate the presence of a divergent lineage of SARS-CoV-2 which has not been documented elsewhere. This information is suggestive of transmission of the virus from deer to a human. 

Interspecies transmission of a virus can have significant implications for dynamics of a viral disease for both wildlife and humans. Anytime a virus replicates, mutations can occur. Not all mutations are significant, however some mutations can make a virus like SARS-CoV-2 more successful at evading immune responses and also capable of infecting a broader range of hosts.

The establishment of wildlife reservoirs of the virus poses a risk to wildlife and human health. They can provide an opportunity for uncontrolled transmission of the virus which raises the potential for spillback from wildlife to humans of immune-escaping variants. We will continue to work with our research partners and the wildlife community to better understand this recent finding. Advancing our knowledge will be critical to understanding the viruses’ potential for transmission, immune evasion and disease in humans and wildlife.

In recognition of the latest science and the importance of reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spread amongst wildlife and our communities, we are working to promote safe wildlife handling practices through a new condition that would be included in wildlife captivity licenses and other authorizations. The condition would help continue or promote safe practices for persons handling wildlife in captivity. We have attached your Notice of Amendment that sets out the new standard condition. Thank you for helping to reduce the spread of this contagious respiratory disease to other wildlife and humans.

Also included with this Notice of Amendment is also a copy of “Wildlife and SARS-CoV-2: Handling Guidelines” by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

To further support you, an online copy of the Handling Guidelines, along with other online resources for learning more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, COVID-19 and wildlife, are available from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative website at http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/covid-19.php.

Additional information on SARS-CoV-2 in various wildlife species and other animals can be found at Animals and COVID-19

Amendment to Wildlife Custodian Authorization issued under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997

Pursuant to clause 62.1 (1 )(b) of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 (FWCA), Ontario’s Wildlife Custodian Authorization is amended by adding the following condition:

Conditions 17, 27, 37 and 39 are revoked and replaced with the following:

Condition 17

  1. (a) The wildlife custodian shall not keep specimens of game wildlife or specially protected wildlife in the same cage or enclosure unless; i. they are the same species; and ii. all specimens were captured within the allowable release distance from each other.

 (b)  Despite condition 17(a)(ii), conspecific immature mammals other than raccoon, striped skunk, arctic fox, gray fox, red fox, and species listed in Appendix A may be kept in the same enclosure regardless of point of origin in accordance with the following requirements:

i. All specimens must be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days in order to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or for a shorter quarantine period if approved in writing for a specific species by the District Supervisor where there is scientific consensus regarding the incubation period of the virus in that species. Conspecific mammals may be quarantined together subject to the following: 

     I.  The quarantine period must restart for all animals quarantined together if clinical signs are identified in the quarantine group; and

     II. The quarantine period must restart for all animals quarantined together when a new animal is added to the quarantine group.

ii. For greater clarity, each specimen must be uniquely identifiable as required under condition 27(i). 

Condition 27

27. The wildlife custodian shall ensure that all game wildlife and specially protected wildlife received at the facility are made identifiable in a humane manner as follows:  i. Individual specimens must be made uniquely identifiable in the facility during the period of its captivity; or ii. in the case of conspecific specimens housed together based on allowable release distances, other than species listed in Appendix A, the group of specimens housed together may be identified as a group, such as by using common markings or by clearly marking the enclosure that houses the animals. Where common markings are used, the group must be identifiable from other groups of specimens or individuals.

Condition 37

37. (a) Conditions 17(a) ii, 35, and 36 do not apply to a wildlife custodian in respect of a species listed in Appendix A if the wildlife custodian receives prior written approval from the District Supervisor in respect of the condition(s). 

(b) The written approval under condition 37(a) must clearly describe the requirements including, at a minimum:

i.     The specific conditions that do not apply;

ii.     The species the approval applies to;

iii.    If the approval relates to condition 17(a)(ii), any requirements related to the housing of the animals;

iv.    If the approval relates to conditions 35 or 36, the release location, and timing of release; and

v.     Any other conditions or limitations that apply.

(c)  The custodian shall house and release animals in accordance with the written approval under condition 37(a). 

(d) Where a written approval under condition 37(a) provides an exemption from the requirements of condition 17(a)(ii) in respect of a species of mammal, all specimens must be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days in order to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in mammals, or for a shorter quarantine period if provided for the species in the approval where there is scientific consensus regarding the incubation period of the virus in that species. Conspecific mammals may be quarantined together subject to the following:

i.  The quarantine period must restart for all animals quarantined together if clinical signs are identified in the quarantine group; and

ii.  The quarantine period must restart for all animals quarantined together when a new animal is added to the quarantine group.

Condition 39

39. To prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (responsible for COVID-19) this Authorization is subject to the following requirements.

a) A copy of the most recent version of “Wildlife and SARS-CoV-2: Handling Guidelines” by Environment and Climate Change Canada must be available and accessible to all persons handling mammals under Authorization.

b) The number of people within 2 metres of live mammals shall be minimized to only those who are providing an essential role in the handling of the live mammals.

c) A well-fitted face mask shall always be worn by people within 2 metres of live mammals; the mask must cover both the mouth and nose of the person. Face masks must meet the guidelines provided by Ontario’s Ministry of Health.

d) Nitrile or latex gloves shall be worn for direct contact with live mammals. Gloves must be changed if they become soiled or contaminated.

e) Equipment alternatives shall be considered for activities that pose a high risk of transmission. For example, small air blowers, puffers, blunt-ended dissecting scissors, or empty wash bottles with a fine nozzle may be used to check for parasites instead of a person using their mouth to blow air on
live mammals.

 

 

This amendment shall be attached to or kept with the Authorization at all times. 

In accordance with subsection 62.1(6) of the FWCA this amendment takes effect on the day it is received, if it is delivered personally, or if it is mailed, five days after mailing.  (Signed:  April 28, 2022.)