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Copyright 2012 IUCN SSC Wildlife Health Specialist Group
Commissioned by the IUCN Species Survival Commission to serve as a first response for wildlife health concerns across the world.
Michael Henry Woodford, FRCVS, (b) 1924, (q) Royal Veterinary College 1946. Died 23 January 2020.
MICHAEL Woodford lived a remarkable life as a vet, from engaging with both small and large animal veterinary clients in practice, to contributing to international and wildlife animal health. After graduating, Mike spent 20 years working in rural agricultural practice in Dorset. During this time he was an early pioneer of the chemical capture of wild animals – using a crossbow and an improvised dart syringe loaded with etorphine – to provide blood samples from wild roe deer that were used to determine the hormonal control of delayed embryo implantation. In 1962 he joined an expedition launched by the then Fauna Preservation Society to Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter to capture some of the last surviving wild Arabian oryx. Over subsequent years, Mike played a key role in the successful re-introduction of captive-bred Arabian oryx back into the wild in Oman. He retired from practice in 1967 and joined the Nuffield Unit of Tropical Animal Ecology, spending four years working on tuberculosis in the African buffalo in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. In 1971 he joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and was involved in avoiding potentially serious epidemics. For example, prompt action on screwworm in Africa prevented it from having a massive impact on Sub-Saharan wildlife and livestock. He also served for five years on the Kenya Wildlife Management Project based out of Kabete. When that project terminated, he was posted by FAO to Afghanistan and later to Mozambique and Kenya.
Having retired from FAO in 1984 he became an independent wildlife consultant for a wide variety of international agencies in 27 different countries, from Greenland to the Philippines. He was the founder and first chair of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) Working Group on Wildlife Diseases and of the International Union for Conservation and Nature’s Species Survial Commission Veterinary Specialist Group, which became the Wildlife Health Specialist Group.
Mike lived peripatetically between Washington DC, Cumbria, his home in Portugal and his travels. In 2010 he finally retired to West Dorset, where he wished to end his days, settling in Cerne Abbas, near his family. The following year he was diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease, which slowly took over his life. Sadly, he was no longer able to read and gradually lost the ability to communicate with his many friends and colleagues around the world. Jennifer, his partner, was a devoted companion and a remarkable carer in his difficult final years and was by his side to the end along with his family.
He was something of a character, with a forthright, yet gentlemanly, manner; he wasn’t afraid to bring up difficult issues at meetings. He was also quirky, with some intriguing interests, such as collecting ear spoons from traditional communities all over the world. He was a keen fly fisherman in retirement and probably spent many of his happiest hours on the rivers near his home. He believed firmly in the importance of the role of veterinarians in conservation and disease in determining populations’ fortunes, despite a slight reluctance among ecologists and biologists to accept this reality. He helped to put health and disease of wildlife on the map and was a leader for the now substantial community of vets involved in wildlife around the world.
He published some useful early manuals on the disease risks, translocation and postmortem examination of wildlife. He also contributed a large number of articles on a variety of subjects, including the reduction of prolapses in lions, tuberculosis of buffalo in Queen Elizabeth National Park Uganda, the haematology of elephants, sarcoptes in the blue sheep of the high mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the impact of biowarfare on biodiversity.
He leaves two daughters and a son John, who followed in his footsteps and works as an international vet in many continents.
Mike was a respected colleague, and his presence will be greatly missed in the global wildlife and veterinary community.
Richard Kock, William B. Karesh and Philippe Chardonnet
Published in the Veterinary Record 18 April 2020 | VET RECORD: https://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/186/14/464.full#block-system-main