On Saturday, six speakers shared their experiences in conservation, wildlife, and One Health. The topics were wide-ranging, covering conservation of endangered species, zoo animal nutrition, plastic waste, and honeybee health. For every topic, the speakers highlighted the importance of wildlife health and the role of the veterinarian.
Zack Dvornicky-Raymond (’19), kicked off Wildlife Health Day with a talk that drew from both his personal experience and his knowledge of the conservation field. Zack first described his Expanding Horizons experience in Namibia where he used his veterinary skills to help the Cheetah Conservation Fund with their guard dog breeding program. He then discussed Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) and their use in breeding endangered species, drawing from his experience studying canine reproduction at the Travis Lab. Zack also drew from his experience at the Smithsonian, where he investigated better ways to transport sperm for the endangered Przewalski’s horse, information critical for preserving the genetic diversity of the species. Zack then discussed the role of contraception-based wildlife management, before finishing off with a reflection about the impact of human population growth on the state of the natural environment.
Dr. Sara Childs-Sanford discussed the unique challenges of managing nutrition in captive wildlife. Many of the nutritional problems that zoo animals face stem from our lack of knowledge of the specific nutritional requirements for these understudied species. Dr. Childs-Sanford did leave the audience with some solutions, citing successful attempts in nutrition research: improving the reproductive success of maned wolves and helping pangolins survive in captivity.
Drawing on her research and coursework, Mariah Beck (’20) shifted the focus to environmental health with her talk on our use and waste of plastic, and its effect on ocean life. She cited three main ways that plastic waste harms marine animals: entanglement, ingestion, and toxicity. Not only do plastics harm iconic species like whales and turtles, but their toxicity also harms animals like mussels which provide important ecosystem services. Mariah called on veterinarians to advocate for reducing the amount of plastic waste in the ocean and pitched ideas to help achieve this goal.
Dr. Elizabeth Buckles dove into a case study on white-nose syndrome in bats, drawing from her own experience as a veterinary pathologist who helped identify the cause of the outbreak. This inspired several principles for working with understudied species including “know your species,” “reach out to experts,” and “be creative.” Dr. Buckles finished with several wildlife pathology anecdotes, including one about how the CDC ignored warnings from veterinarians about the arrival of West Nile Virus to the United States. These examples illustrated the need for veterinarians to speak up to protect both human and wildlife health.
The conversation moved to honeybee health when Dr. Robin Radcliffe gave a lecture on colony collapse and the light that wild honeybee colonies can shed on it. Curiously, wild honeybee populations have not suffered from all of the problems that face captive bee colonies. For instance, as Dr. Radcliffe explained, wild honeybees have developed behavioral immunity to the Varroa mite which has devastated captive bee populations. His main message was that there is a need for greater monitoring of colony health by the veterinary community, something the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine is facilitating by adding a new distribution course on apiary medicine.
Dr. Sharon Deem, wildlife veterinarian for the St. Louis Zoo, finished off the day as the keynote speaker. She rehashed many of the issues brought up by other speakers, while also sharing her perspective on the most important issues in wildlife health. Dr. Deem emphasized One Health, drawing on her research on diseases of camels being used as livestock in Kenya. She left the audience with advice for future wildlife veterinarians.
Wildlife Health day drew dozens of vet students and faculty, giving members of the Cornell Veterinary community a chance to learn about the opportunities and challenges within the field. These types of events aim to increase levels of awareness and emphasize the importance of veterinarians in conservation and One Health.