Obituary Michael Henry Woodford, FRCVS

Michael Woodford, who attended Blundell’s from 1938-1940 sadly and finally passed away in January 2020, at the age of 95, having lived a remarkable life as a veterinarian, firstly in private practice and then continuing into a career as a widely respected international consultant specialising eventually in the potential role played by wildlife translocation in the spread of animal diseases, worldwide.

During his years at Blundell’s Michael became a keen natural historian and young falconer, as well as an avid fisherman, inspired by the stories set in Devon by Henry Williamson and many others.

After leaving Blundell’s, Michael attended the Royal Veterinary College, London, graduating as a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1946. He then spent the first 20 years of his career in rural agricultural practice in mid-Dorset, where he was able to continue to enjoy his pastimes as a naturalist and sportsman. Quite by chance, Michael’s interest in stalking roe deer led him to become one of the early pioneers of the chemical capture of wild animals. Using an improvised cross-bow and dart syringe loaded with a strong tranquiliser, he assisted a fellow veterinarian working at Cambridge University in providing serial blood samples from captured and released wild deer that were used to determine the hormonal control of delayed embryo implantation.

In 1962 Michael was invited by the then Fauna Preservation Society to join an expedition to the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia to capture what were considered to be some of the last surviving wild Arabian Oryx. Over subsequent years, firstly supervising their quarantine in northern Kenya, Mike played a key role in saving this iconic animal from extinction through the successful re-introduction of captive-bred Arabian Oryx back into the wild in Oman.

In 1967, Michael retired from veterinary practice, leaving Dorset to join a wildlife research project in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in south western Uganda. Here Michael undertook a research project looking at the interaction between domestic cattle living adjacent to the national park and wild Cape Buffalo, that had become infected with bovine tuberculosis. Soon after the arrival of President Idi Amin, in 1971, Michael and his wife then moved to Kenya to spend the next 5 years working for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations looking into the utilisation of wildlife as a natural resource and wildlife conservation. When that project ended, Michael was posted by FAO firstly to Afghanistan and later to Mozambique and Kenya, retiring from FAO in 1984.

From then on, Michael worked as an independent wildlife consultant for a wide variety of international agencies in 27 different countries, ranging from Greenland to the Philippines. He was the founder and first Chairperson of the Office Internationale des Epizooties (OIE), (now known as the World Organisation for Animal Health) Working Group on Wildlife Diseases and of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Veterinary Specialist Group. In 2008 the Director General of the World Organisation for Animal Health awarded Michael with their Medal for his “outstanding contribution to the better understanding of wildlife translocation and its role in the global spread of animal diseases”.

During the latter years of his career, Michael lived peripatetically between his family home in Cerne Abbas, Dorset, his second home in Portugal and on his many overseas travels. He finally returned to Cerne permanently about a decade ago, eventually suffering from a form of dementia which slowly took over his life.

Michael is remembered by his many international colleagues in the world of wildlife conservation for his “forthright yet gentlemanly manner, a definite character at meetings who always brought the difficult issues to the fore, rather than let them lie under the carpet. He was also quirky with some intriguing interests such as collecting ear spoons from traditional communities all over the world. Mike was a respected colleague, and his presence will be greatly missed in the global wildlife and veterinary community.

Michael believed firmly in the importance of veterinarians in wildlife conservation and the role of disease in determining population’s fortunes despite a slight reluctance in the 20th Century to accept this reality amongst ecologists and biologists. 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 wildlife necropsy and on disease and translocation and contributed a large volume of articles on a variety of subjects from reduction of prolapses in lion, tuberculosis of buffalo in Queen Elizabeth National Park Uganda, haematology of elephant, sarcoptic mange in the blue sheep in the high mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, translocation and disease risks to biowarfare impacts on biodiversity.”

Michael leaves two daughters and a son John.


Adapted from the Obituary prepared for the Veterinary Record by:

  • Richard Kock Professor Wildlife Health Royal Veterinary College London
  • William B. Karesh Ecohealth Alliance New York
  • Philippe Chardonnet Wildlife Veterinarian, France
  • John Woodford, France