Campus News Science & Technology

UGA Voices lecture series concludes with wildlife’s role in health pandemics

Athens, Ga. – An international ecology expert with a passion for wildlife and life in the bush will deliver this year’s final Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard lecture on April 10 at 5:30 p.m. in the University of Georgia Chapel.

Matthew LeBreton, Cameroon-based ecology director for the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative, will speak on “Predicting Pandemics: The Importance of Wildlife.” Much of his research has dealt with the practical interactions between people and wildlife.

“HIV originated in animals and has had devastating global consequences,” said UGA’s Patricia Thomas, Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism and co-organizer of the lecture series. “Viral forecasters hope to head off the next pandemic before it happens by combining new knowledge about viruses, new tools for detection, and field observations of wildlife ecology and diversity. LeBreton will provide us with a first-hand report from Cameroon.”

The Global Viral Forecasting Initiative is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization whose team has spent more than 10 years developing a global system to prevent pandemics.

Research in Cameroon focuses on the interface between human and animal populations. Through studies in health care settings, wildlife sanctuaries, and with hunters and wild animal populations, GVFI works to assemble and analyze collections, which may hold clues to preventing the next HIV.

As director of projects in Cameroon, LeBreton leads health and ecology education and research programs, including wildlife health research, zoonotic disease research, healthy hunting education and coordination of rural village research infrastructure development. He also manages laboratory and data systems.

An expert on the health hazards of bush meat hunting and consumption, he works closely with hunters and local communities to reduce their exposure to a long list of disease-causing organisms. He has studied the transmission of HIV and other human and animal viruses, tick-borne diseases, and gastrointestinal parasites diseases spread by mosquitoes, including malaria.

LeBreton’s passion for the bush and for wildlife dates to his childhood in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in zoology at the University of New South Wales, and after graduating, began conducting biodiversity surveys in numerous national parks and wildlife refuges in Australia.

He is an expert on reptiles and amphibians and originally came to Cameroon in 1997 to study these creatures. He has since discovered a number of new species of lizards and snakes. Africa has been his base of operations since 2000.

His expertise on biodiversity, ecologic change and infectious diseases has led to advisory roles with local communities, governments, corporations and non-profit organizations in Africa, Australia and Europe.

LeBreton has published more than 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals, as well as books and book chapters, reptile and herpetofauna inventories for governments and non-profit organizations, and official assessments of threatened species.

LaBreton’s lecture will be followed by a private reception.

The “Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard” lecture series is a joint effort of Patricia Thomas, UGA’s Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Daniel G. Colley, director of UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. The UGA President’s Venture Fund provides significant support. For additional information, see