Defining Conservation Medicine
Gary M. Tabor
In 1827, Charles Darwin, founder of modern evolutionary biology, decided to leave medical school at the University of Edinburgh to pursue studies in religion and natural history at Cambridge. This was a period in medical training when natural history and zoology were considered integral disciplines of the medical arts. Although Darwin never completed his medical training, the combination of his exposure to multiple disciplines and his worldly experience aboard the HMS Beagle led to his penning On the Origin of Species. Perhaps the power and depth of his observations that led to his groundbreaking work were based in part on his diverse training and intellectual pursuits. Like Darwin, health practitioners in his era and before were routinely trained in both medicine and natural history; these were disciplines that were once closely aligned.
Modern-day environmental threats necessitate renewing the link between medicine and natural history—more specifically, ecology—once again. Drawing from the past as we go forward, here we present a primer on the new field of conservation medicine. In essence, conservation medicine is founded upon reconnected disciplines long separated by time and tradition. In our intellectual evolution of specialization, our society has lost a range of problem-solving skills based on interdisciplinary observation and problem definition. The connection of natural history and medicine is an element known to Darwin but foreign in today's thinking.
In the nineteenth century, much of the world Darwin explored was relatively pristine, and natural processes were still intact. Today, such a journey would reveal a very different reality. The continuum of current environmental problems due in large part to human effects is a theme repeated often in this book and elsewhere. The global loss of biodiversity; the destruction, degradation, and fragmentation