How Space Technologies are Transforming Wildlife Conservation

The conservation of forests and wildlife is becoming increasingly important around the world due to human interference and the rising number of endangered species.

Currently, many practices involved in the monitoring, tracking and protection of wild animals involve time-consuming, resource heavy processes. New, sustainable solutions for conservation are needed to safeguard wildlife effectively in the current climate.

Projects utilising space technologies such as satellite navigation and imagery and the wireless transmission of data are finding new ways to help protect the health of wild animal populations around the world.

Here, we feature some of the initiatives driving positive change in the sector.


WAMCAM: Monitoring Endangered Species Through AI

The WAMCAM project was originally created to aid researchers studying the native leopard population in Borneo. The process of setting up and checking live animal traps and camera traps in the dense jungle was a long-winded process that didn’t allow for wide scale study.

The solution was the WAMCAM, a battery-powered camera with added AI capabilities to identify the species of animals captured by traps. When an animal triggers a trap, the camera, which is connected to remote devices via satellite, will send a signal to researchers. This allows researchers to only travel through the rainforest when needed and makes tagging and health monitoring more efficient.

Satellite navigation technology can also be used in areas with decreased visibility to locate traps across a wider area for more extensive studies on animal population.

All the information gathered is stored digitally, resulting in clearer, more reliable research data to be shared globally.


Space Applications for Wildlife

This project provides a global service for the monitoring of wildlife habitats and nature around the world. Designed for governments, NGOs, businesses and universities, the project delivers regular wildlife trend reports, wildlife management advice and crisis prevention plans.

The project uses existing data collected by satellites monitoring the earth to provide reports on habitat quality around the world. By comparing historical data from the satellites to current satellite imagery, trends and changes can be detected and plans put in place for the protection of natural habitats.

Light pollution, land ecosystems, marine ecosystems and the quality of animal habitats can all be tracked by this innovative technology. One of the main benefits of this, is that it can be used in any location.


SISMA: Monitoring Domestic and Wild Herds

The SISMA project has been created with herders and agricultural state agencies in mind. One element of this project works to protect the reindeer population in Russia. Due to weak terrestrial communications in Northern Russia, the scheme utilises satellite navigations systems, Earth Observation and satellite imagery to track herds. This technology has the aim of reducing animal loss, preventing disease and managing habitats through remote, accurate monitoring.

The project includes a collar system connected to a mobile app to inform herders of their animals’ location and check for disease via temperature monitoring and alerts.

There is also a ‘disease channel’ for veterinarians to share early warning signs for diseases. The final element is the ‘data centre’ which collects current and historical statistics for further analysis, accessible via cloud services.

Funding Conservation Projects

Finding new, sustainable ways to protect endangered species and monitor the health of wild animals around the world is crucial.

For projects such as these to become more wildly accessible, they need support and funding from governments, local authorities and commercial stakeholders.

These projects have all received essential funding from ESA Business Apps.


ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION:

The European Space Agency (ESA) is an international organisation which organizes European space programs to find out more about the Earth, our solar system and the Universe. ESA is dedicated to encouraging investment in space research and satellite-based technologies and services for the benefit of Europe and the rest of the world.

The European Space Agency: Business Applications (ESA-BA) offers zero-equity funding, access to their network and project management advice to any business looking to use space technologies for new services.

To discover more projects they’ve helped grow, head over to the ESA-BA funding page.

From Sand to Surf

Walk through a harbor on the Pacific coast and more likely than not, you will be greeted by a chorus of barks from California sea lions. Their populations were dangerously declining in the 1960s, but since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, populations have rebounded beautifully. Bolstering these population growths are marine mammal rehabilitation centers along the Pacific coast. This past summer I had the incredible opportunity to work at one such center, the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI). Located in Santa Barbara, California, the goal of CIMWI is to positively impact marine conservation through rescue, rehabilitation, research, and education, improving overall ocean health as a result.

Over the course of the summer, I took part in rescues of sick or injured marine mammals, rehabilitation efforts, and ultimately the rewarding experience of releasing rehabilitated patients that had reached an ideal weight and health status to the wild. The majority of patient load were California sea lion pups. On initial intake, body weights were obtained, body dimensions measured with measuring tape, and while one person restrained, another person got a pinprick of blood from the tail vein to check blood glucose levels. Glucose levels would determine whether or not patients needed dextrose supplementation to their diet. Over time I and the rest of the CIMWI team monitored the health of, completed medical records, medicated, and attended to basic husbandry needs (such as cleaning enclosures, feedings, and providing fresh water) for patients.

Watching patients progress over time was truly rewarding as formerly emaciated pups gradually put on weight and energy levels heightened. As pups grew closer and closer to release status they were moved from more isolated enclosures designed to promote a lower stress healing environment to larger outdoor enclosures designated for housing larger groups of healthier animals. Amidst a chorus of barking, patients were lead one by one into an alternate enclosure to facilitate medicating individuals and allowing for cleaning of the formal enclosure. When patients were all gathered in a newly cleaned area, pounds of fatty herring were provided as the animals freely fed in a splashing frenzy. As we cleaned their former enclosures the ruckus dulled as the animals grew satiated and lounged in the afternoon sun.

Finally, nearing the end of my summer, all of our hard work culminated to the gratifying return of our patients to the ocean. The morning of the release, I, along with other members of the CIMWI team, met up with Jennifer Levine, CIMWI’s stranding operations and animal care manager. We loaded rehabilitated patients in transport kennels onto a boat captained by the Channel Islands Packers – a cruise organization that services the Channel Island National Park. Boarding the boat along with campers, hikers and other members of the general public destined for the national park, we answered questions about our sea lion patients and rehabilitation efforts in general. Seeing fellow travelers’ faces light up with interest and concern for these animals and hearing them cheer as the animals dove into park waters reinforced my belief that outreach is key to conservation efforts. Because these individuals had the chance to see those animals released and return to the sea, maybe they were able to get a glimpse of why our oceans are worth saving. By that same vein, it wasn’t just our patients that benefited that day – the dolphins that flanked the boat, the humpbacks breaching on the return trip and every single person on the boat that got to take in the experience – it was a win for all of us.

Acknowledgements

I would like to extend my gratitude to the Channel Islands Marine Wildlife Institute Board of Directors, including President Dr. Samuel Dover DVM and Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ruth Dover, for allowing me to have this experience. I’d also like to thank Strandings and Animal Care Manager, Jennifer Levine, and all the dedicated volunteers and colleagues that worked alongside me for their continued support and efforts in marine rehabilitation.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nycole Cole, Class of 2020, is interested in aquatics and conservation. originally from the west coast, she hopes to one day work in marine conservation or in government work. she enjoys running with her friends and dog, and surfing with her brother.

 

 

 

Wildlife Health comes to New York City – Investigating Lead Levels in Pigeons

Credit: Jennifer Morrow, https://www.flickr.com/

 

Wildlife in New York City. It sounds like an oxymoron, but every year, concerned New Yorkers find thousands of injured animals lying on the sidewalk. They take to Google and end up at the only wildlife rehabilitation center in NYC – the Wild Bird Fund. I was one of those people.

In 2009, two children brought a sparrow into the dog & cat clinic that I worked at. The bird wasn’t putting any weight on its right leg. After my shift was over, I made the two-hour subway ride to the Upper West Side and stepped through the front door of the Wild Bird Fund. Hens roamed freely in the lobby. A gull honked from its perch on the chair next to me. Mourning doves cooed from huge window aviaries, and a rehab worker bustled by cradling a swan, one hand supporting its long neck. I was instantly hooked. The very next week, I attended orientation to become a volunteer.

Although the Wild Bird Fund accepts all animals, more than half of its patients belong to just one species. It’s the most commonly sighted animal in New York City – the infamous pigeon, Columba livia, or, “rat with wings”.  There are over a million in NYC alone. That means thousands of sick pigeons arrive at the Wild Bird Fund every year. After volunteering for a while, I became interested in learning more about lead poisoning, one of the most common ailments among our patients.

Map of pigeon mean blood lead levels in Manhattan by zip code.

For my undergraduate senior thesis project, I decided to compile all of the blood lead levels for pigeons measured at the Wild Bird Fund from 2011 onwards. Then, I mapped these results across different neighborhoods in NYC. Sorting through and geolocating thousands of hand-written records took me the better part of an entire summer. Turns out it wasn’t in vain – I found consistently high levels of lead poisoning in small pockets of the city, areas such as Lower Manhattan and the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. My results also matched child lead poisoning reports published by the US Department of Health in 2010 and 2014. Sick children and sick pigeons live in the same neighborhoods.

It’s still unclear where this lead is coming from, although it’s most likely a combination of several different sources, including leaded paint, leaded gasoline, and small airplane fuel. The Wild Bird Fund data also revealed another trend: lead poisoning is significantly higher in the summer. This correlates with lead poisoning studies done on human children; Laidlaw et al. (2005) suggest that soil humidity is lower in the summer, leading to increased suspension of and exposure to lead dust.

In the end, it’s hard to look past some of the similarities between human and animal pathology, especially when we live in the same neighborhoods, breathe the same air, and eat the same food. (If you’ve never seen a pigeon chowing down on a discarded pretzel, have you truly seen New York City?) Mine is just one of many studies being published every year about human-ecosphere interaction. One emerging field involves the use of animals as bioindicators for human health. The bioindicator is the proverbial canary in the coal mine; if the wildlife falls ill, we may expect humans to fall ill as well.

Just like any other time science happens, I submitted my paper with more questions than I had answers. Wildlife is suffering, and it is by no uncertain terms our doing. It’s hard not to notice this when three of the most common problems treated at the Wild Bird Fund are lead poisoning, collision with windows, and cat attacks. Shortly after my study was published in Chemosphere, it was picked up by The New York Times and a slew of other online papers. In particular, The New York Times debated the true efficacy of predicting human disease using pigeon lives. As I read the news article, my heart sank.

I’d written a paper on pigeon health, but I was getting the impression that very few people cared if it didn’t have immediate applications to human medicine. It wasn’t entirely their fault — I had, after all, dedicated many pages of my study to drawing comparisons between pigeon and human child lead toxicity. But as accurate as these comparisons were, I’d done them in part because I hadn’t been confident that anyone would notice a study on just pigeon lead poisoning. I thought my results were important, and I wanted them to be published; writing about human medicine would help that process.

It’s not that I don’t care about human medicine — far from it. We should raise our voices, loudly and clearly, when a human is poisoned. And we should raise our voices, loudly and clearly, when an animal is poisoned as well. Lead toxicity or otherwise, it’s becoming more and more obvious that connections between human and animal health exist everywhere we turn. I guess this is a call to everyone to care just a bit more about what happens to the life that we’re surrounded by: the earthworms tunneling underfoot, the warblers migrating south, and yes, maybe that pigeon strutting past too, even if it just pooped on your windshield.

 

The paper published from Fayme’s research can be found here.  Click here to read the New York Times article about it.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Fayme Cai, class of 2022, was born and raised in NYC and graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelor’s in Ecology & Evolution and a minor in Psychology. Although it’s still up in the air for now, she’s mostly interested in small animal and companion exotic animal medicine.

My Summer with the Wildlife Health Program

For the summer of 2017, I was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Elizabeth Bunting of New York State’s Wildlife Health Program (WHP). Dr. Bunting is based out of Cornell’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC) and works in conjunction with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The goal of the Wildlife Health Program is “to safeguard the long-term health of the wildlife populations of New York”. This is accomplished through disease surveillance, research, and data analysis. My work, as a research assistant, was varied and fulfilling.

About two-thirds of my time were spent at the AHDC in an assistant capacity. Dr. Bunting would have questions pop up, and I would comb the literature trying to find answers for her. Some examples of the types of issues I looked into were: life cycle, vectors, and diagnostics of acanthocephalans (thorny headed worms) that affect passerines (songbirds); distemper virus in raccoons and vaccine protocols for wildlife rehabilitators; and the proper antibiotics to use, and at what dosage, to treat hellbender salamanders suffering from infections due to surgical complications. While at the AHDC, I got to perform several necropsies on wildlife including a juvenile black bear, an adult white tailed doe, and several white tail fawns. I also continued work on a project involving muskrat pelts that I started while working with Dr. Bunting over the winter break. This included giving a presentation in a DEC furbearer meeting on the work I had been doing and the results we had at that point. In my down time, I also did routine office work, including data entry.

Now on to the really fun stuff! Dr. Bunting was very generous in letting me spend about one-third of my time out in the field. She and Dr. Krysten Schuler of the WHP got me in contact with several wildlife biologists, technicians, and graduate students who I was able to accompany on various projects around the state. I spent the first two weeks of the summer assisting on a white tail deer fawn survival study. A graduate student had placed vaginal implant transmitters (VIT) in about 20 does which we would monitor through radio telemetry every few hours. When the doe gave birth, the VIT would fall out and change its signal, alerting us that fawns were on the ground. We would go in, and take measurements of the fawns, collect blood, hair, and saliva samples, and place radio collars on the fawns.

I also got to assist with two monitoring studies of both of New York’s venomous snakes, timber rattlesnakes and massasauga rattlesnakes. Both studies involved locating the snakes, taking measurements, and checking for microchips on previously captured snakes, or implanting microchips in newly captured snakes. The goal of both studies was to monitor the health and population numbers of the snakes to ensure that they are at sustainable levels in the state. I was also present at Cornell’s Janet Swanson Wildlife Health Center to witness the surgical implantation of a radio-telemetry tracker into a timber rattlesnake.

Some of my favorite work of the summer involved Hellbender salamanders. Hellbender numbers have been declining in the state, so several years ago several egg masses were hatched in captivity to be released into the wild to supplement the population. Unfortunately, these released animals were dying in the wild due to a fungal infection called chytridiomycosis. Vaccine trials have been performed in the past with inconclusive results. This past year the last 20 salamanders from one egg mass from the Buffalo Zoo were brought to Cornell for a vaccine and release protocol trial. All of the salamanders had telemetry trackers implanted surgically. I was able to assist in anesthetizing and recovering many of the salamanders from surgery. Later in the summer, I was with the group that released the salamanders into streams in the wild. Half of the animals were released into cages for the summer, while the other half were released nearby in the streams. I made several trips back out to help monitor the salamanders and catch them to swab for fungal cultures. I also had the chance to help the DEC on a wild hellbender survey late in the summer.

I got to assist with a few other cool projects over the summer. One involved accompanying trained dog teams in the Adirondacks collecting moose scat for a moose population estimate study. Another involved monitoring bat numbers at known summer roost sites. I was able to spend a day banding Canada geese with the DEC. I also went out collecting black bear hair from various research sites.

My summer with the Wildlife Health Program was a great experience. I learned that being a wildlife veterinarian doesn’t just involve field work and hands-on animal experience. Research, surveillance, and relying on biologists out in the field is a huge component of being a state wildlife veterinarian. Much time is spent in the office but it is important work and is crucial to the job. That being said, my hands-on experiences over the course of the summer were fantastic. I don’t know too many people that can say that they personally handled 2 types of rattlesnakes, a threatened amphibian species, and baby deer all in a couple of months. My summer experience makes me excited for a possible future as a wildlife veterinarian. I would like to thank Dr. Beth Bunting very much for the opportunity to work with and learn from her. I would also like to thank Dr. Krysten Schuler, Nikki, Nick, Richalice, and Jennifer from the Wildlife Health Program for being so great to me over my time with them. I would also like to thank Dr. Hermanson, Dr. Buckles and the various graduate students, wildlife biologists, and wildlife technicians that allowed me to join them out in the field.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bryan Clifford is a veterinary student at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in the Class of 2020. Bryan is also a student technician at the Janet Swanson Wildlife Health Center. He is interested in pursuing a career working with free-ranging wildlife and wildlife rehabilitation.

Colonialism and Conservation: a look at Borneo, Indonesia

This past summer, I traveled to Indonesia as part of Engaged Cornell. Engaged Cornell is a program that pairs together a graduate veterinary student and an undergraduate student for a summer research project. The program provided funding for four pairs of students to travel to Indonesia, the Congo, and Uganda. As part of team Indonesia, I also took a semester long intensive language course as well as a Conservation in Communities elective course.

My team went to East Kalimantan, the Indonesian province in Borneo. We were partnered with ALeRT (Aliansi Lestari Rimba Terpadu – The Alliance of Integrated Forest Conservation), a non-profit organization founded in 2009 by Dr. Marcellus Adi. ALeRT aims to protect the nature of Way Kambas National Park and encourage community development for sustainable living. In March 2017, ALeRT established a new office in Borneo to conduct disease surveillance and occupancy surveys of the Sumatran Rhinoceros found in East Kalimantan, in conjunction with WWF. The Sumatran Rhino is critically endangered, and was thought to be extinct in Borneo until it resurfaced between 2010-2013. There are an estimated 1-5 rhinos left in the region, and with continued habitat loss, the risk of death of these animals is high. WWF has been working in the region for a couple of years now, and plans to do a translocation of the rhino in the wild to the protected Kelian Forest. However, before the translocation can take place, a thorough evaluation of diseases in the current habitat and the protected forest is necessary to ensure that immunologically naïve rhinos are not exposed to new diseases in the protected Kelian Forest during the translocation.


We worked closely Dr. Aldino Yanuar, the ALeRT veterinarian at the field site in East Kalimantan. Our goal was to document the prevalence of gastrointestinal parasites and trypanosomes in cattle living in areas surrounding the potential habitat of the Sumatran rhinos. Because of the risk of cross-species transmission, establishing disease prevalence in cattle helps us to assess the risk to the rhinos. Since the ALeRT office was recently established, part of our job was to help Dr. Yanuar set up a small lab and help prepare sample collection protocol.

We spent a week at a time in remote villages that bordered the proposed habitat. Our partners had already begun choosing villages by sending members of the Social team to speak to villagers about whether they had seen any rhinos. Often, we didn’t have any prior information about how many cattle were found in each village. Some villages had just a few cattle, while others still maintained an abandoned government breeding program, and one village only kept swine. Because of this, it wasn’t always possible to anticipate what the day’s sample collection would be like.

We built temporary stalls using wood cut down and plastic wrap, or whatever else was on hand. Many of the cattle were not used to handling, so collecting samples and administering vitamins required a lot of patience. In one set of villages, each temporary stall resulted in cows jumping over or under the sides to escape. I was completely out of my element when one village did not have any cattle, but did have swine. I had utilize what little I had learned in my curriculum about swine to collect the samples we needed. I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned a lot about myself, as well. At times, you must use what you have. If you run out of gloves, you do what you must do to get the samples. Often the roads were almost impassable, taking hours toget from one village to the next. There was seldom cell service or electricity. Our curriculum gives us a base on which to build our experiences, but the rest, the creative problem-solving, is up to us. I also had to face the reality that, in Borneo as in many other places in the world, animal welfare regulations are not as strict as they are in the United States. The pigs are kept in small wooded enclosures 5 feet above the ground, because of the flooding, and are fed one to two times daily. Often the pigs did not even have access to water. Many animals are kept alive long periods of time when they should be culled, because cows are thought of as a symbol of wealth and are saved for ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

 

While in the area, we attended a traditional Dayak Funeral ceremony for a woman who had passed away in her sleep just days before we arrived. We ate with her family, and then watched them make the first sacrifice to help the dead cross into the afterlife. The sacrificial cow was used for meat over the following days. The second and final sacrifice, 7 days after her death, involved tying a water buffalo to a carved tree in the center of the field and releasing the water buffalo as men in two teams surrounded it. Every drop of blood spilled was a step closer to the afterlife, so the men in teams had knives and would stab the water buffalo as it attempted to get away. We watched as this part of the ceremony took place. Before the life of the water buffalo could be ended, a fight broke out between the two teams, so we were whisked away. This funeral ceremony is quite rare, and it was extremely difficult to see. We learn in class about behaviors exhibited by animals when they fear for their lives, and this water buffalo was terrified. We talk about animal welfare, and the USDA would by no means approve of this ceremony. However, it is part of the Dayak Tribe’s culture, deeply rooted in their history and spiritual beliefs – and who was I to say that this ceremony was wrong? Without understanding, we lose pieces of human history and diversity.

At each village we visited, I was astonished by the villagers’ kindness and willingness to share – gifts, food, and knowledge. The quote “Sometimes, those who give the most are the ones with the least to share” came to mind quite often. In one village, they started up the generator for us each night, and when we ran out of water to bathe in, rushed to the river to get us more water. I was gifted a handmade Dayak purse by one woman after spending the evening teaching English to the kids in the village. These amazing people had so little to give, and yet gave so much. At one point a farmer asked us, “why do doctors only come to check the animals and not us?” This statement still haunts me. The healthcare system in Indonesia is riddled with corruption. Much of the money is invested in Java and Jakarta for the roads. Though this is changing for the people in East Kalimantan, I wonder if it is changing fast enough. And as the needs of people continue to increase, it only means that the forest will get smaller. Many people still rely on the forest. Some villagers see the forest as an endless possibility. Other are afraid of the creatures it holds, and still others are unconcerned about the forest, because it is palm oil and rubber that provide for their families. Conservation of animals is so closely intertwined with the people surrounding these flagship species like the rhinoceros. I remember riding the motorcycle from one village to the next, seeing many people with guns going hunting. Even in the protected Kelian forest, there was evidence of people. A bearded pig had a distal limb amputation from a snare. We ate monitor lizard in a village close to the Kelian forest, after a villager offered us some of his prized meal. The question is, how can we really get people involved in protecting the forest and animals, while at the same time maintaining a sustainable economy?

To explain the relationship between America and Indonesia, you must understand the complex history between the two nations. Indonesia was originally a Dutch colony for hundreds of years. The Dutch established a caste system and controlled all portions of the government. In 1945, after a complex role in World War II and a period of Japanese occupation, Indonesia proclaimed its independence. America brokered the deal: for their independence, Indonesia would pay the Dutch what would be about 150 billion dollars today. The country was left poor, with its natural resources exploited. In the 1960s, communism began to take hold of Indonesia. At the height of the Cold War, the United States intervened, and the CIA effectively ran a shadow government. With the backing of the United States, Indonesian General Suharto took control, and murdered high-ranking members of the military, blaming it on communists. The subsequent anti-communist purge led to the genocide of 300,000-400,000 people. Indonesia continued to grow and develop economically, but Suharto’s administration was widely suspected of corruption. In 1998, Suharto resigned, and Indonesia became a democracy. In 2010, the net worth Indonesia’s vast oil and mineral reserves was over 95 billion dollars, yet the government only operated on 19 billion dollars that year. The remaining 66 billion dollars in revenue from Indonesia’s natural resources went to American, Australian and Singaporean companies.

So with this history of colonialization and even more recent neo-colonialism, what is our role as conservationists? That is a question I still struggle to answer. The clear majority of Americans will never know what it is like to grow up in a developing country. We might have preconceived notions about how easy it would be for someone to just stop poaching, or to build a better road. To just simply stop the hunting of prized animals such as elephants, even though it can provide some income to poor villages. To see an elephant in chains and proclaim that such treatment is inhumane. To judge someone who traps a pangolin, despite not even knowing the laws preventing it. To say that a farmer needs to provide his cows with more calcium, while the farmers must prioritize their children’s needs for the same mineral. Even as veterinarians, we are taught that when an animal presents with a problem, we fix that problem. Practice is rarely so simple. We will learn later in our careers how complicated that can be, based upon the client and their financial needs. We live a sheltered life in veterinary school, but programs like Engaged Cornell and Expanding Horizons give us glimpses of the “real world.” My experience taught me how the world really operates, and left me with more questions than answers when it comes to the realities of conservation, and how to implement change. Even now, words don’t do my experience and the people I met any justice.

Eden and Dr. Marcel

Working with ALeRT helped me to see that my role, and maybe our roles, are not to march in as crusaders, to try to get people to stop what they have been doing for years. ALeRT was run entirely by Indonesians, and they employed people with connections to the Dayak tribe. Our role is to empower and educate people who can utilize that knowledge, along with their understanding of the culture, to make long lasting impacts for people, the rhinos, and the environment. I am proud and humbled to be a part of Engaged Cornell because it is a program that augments the work that Indonesians such as the illustrious Dr. Marcel Adi and Dr. Yanuar are doing to protect the environment.

Many of my questions remained unanswered, swirled in the reality that I am just one person. With clinical rotations looming in my immediate future, I feel the frustration of being faced with these questions and not being able to do much right now. However, I have learned that the integration of multidisciplinary roles is essential to effectively enact long-lasting change. I believe that One Health is going to change the world, but it will be a long and arduous road to creatively solve major issues facing the planet, and asking the right questions is just the beginning. One area I would like to see improve is the sharing of information. There was a lot of prior research conducted in Indonesia that I could not access without knowing some of the language. Speaking with the head of WWF Indonesia, I know he and other people are working hard to translate what they know, to make it available to people in English-speaking countries. Indonesian researchers would benefit from translations, as well. It is just a slow process, and many species don’t have that time.

For more information on neocolonialism in Indonesia, check out this article.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eden Stark is a third year veterinary student.

Breeding Livestock Guard Dogs and Protecting Cheetahs

My name is Zachary Dvornicky-Raymond, and I’m a member of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s class of 2019. As far back as I can remember, I have dreamed of working with wildlife and having a lasting impact on global conservation. The Expanding Horizons program gave me the opportunity to take my first steps toward fulfilling my dream.

I spent the summer of 2016 at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), based outside of Otjiwarongo, Namibia. The CCF was founded by Dr. Laurie Marker in 1990, with the goal of saving the cheetah from extinction through a multifaceted approach to conservation. Habitat loss and fragmentation, and declining prey availability, have resulted in cheetahs predating on livestock and entering into human-wildlife conflict situations with farmers.

The Livestock Guard Dog Project is a unique approach to human-wildlife conflict mitigation, whereby Anatolian Shepherd/Kangal dogs are bred and raised amongst livestock, and then placed at farms throughout Namibia. Through their presence and loud bark, the dogs reduce livestock predation by 80-100% in the herds where they are placed. By reducing predation, the program provides security for the farmer’s livestock herd, and reduces retaliatory killings, mostly against cheetahs.

The Livestock Guard Dog Project has been extremely successful in the past, not only in reducing cheetah mortalities, but also in improving the outlook that local communities have toward cheetahs. Since 1994, over 450 dogs have been placed in farms throughout Namibia. However, the program has also encountered reproductive setbacks within the breeding colony. In short, they experienced multiple failed breeding attempts and whelping complications. The goal of my project was to try to identify and solve those problems using what I learned through the DVM curriculum, combined with knowledge I had gained from working on canine reproductive research at Cornell.

Throughout my time in Namibia, I gained first-hand experience working in conservation. I worked and talked with local farmers to learn about their lives, experiences, and concerns; I observed, assisted with, and conducted veterinary procedures on numerous wild and domestic species; I learned about aspects of the veterinary medical profession that I had no idea even existed. And, as part of a team, I produced results that have truly made a difference. Our work solved many of the problems that the LSGD program was encountering and, as a testament to our success, multiple litters have been born since I left.  We truly made a difference that summer, and the effects of my work will far outlast my time at CCF – and that fact alone makes my experience worthwhile. I came in expecting the problem to be solely due to medical anomalies, but what I quickly realized is that we also had to make management and communication adjustments to truly benefit the program. We not only pinpointed the root of many of the medical problems that they were encountering, but through a collaborative effort, we created new management protocols for the breeding colony.

Looking back on that summer, specifically to the very beginning, I realize that I had high aspirations for the outcome of my trip. I am beyond pleased to write that my expectations were far exceeded. Seeing the research center and meeting the staff for the first time was nothing short of surreal. Although I had seen plenty of photos and read extensively about the work being done there, it paled in comparison to the reality. I quickly came to realize that the staff and veterinarians working with the Livestock Guard Dog Project were as excited for my project as I was, and that we had so much to teach each other. So we did.

Much of my time in the first few weeks was spent learning the ins and outs of operations at CCF. I worked extensively with the veterinarians on all of the animals at the center, from big cats to guard dogs, from goat kids to horses. The Livestock Guard Dog manager and I spent hours going through the history of the program, the setbacks they had encountered, the improvements that have been made to the program, and what we needed to accomplish together. It was a big task, but we were up to the challenge.

One of my favorite lessons from this experience was learning the role of a veterinarian within a team. All of the care provided to the animals, whether goats, dogs, or cheetahs, required collaboration between husbandry staff, veterinarians, and administration. The veterinarians relied on the husbandry staff for surveillance, monitoring, and history. After all, the husbandry staff knew these animals more than anyone else at the center. I learned quickly how important it was to listen to the team, given how diverse the areas of expertise were within the group.

When I visited local farms, where human-wildlife conflict was a reality, my primary role was again to listen and learn. By doing so, I gained a much better idea of how to approach these issues than I would have if I had just rushed in and tried to fix them alone. Even then, it took creativity and persistence to find answers and every person played a part, which was especially important when theory did not match practice.

This is perhaps the most important thing that I took from my experience: that any initiative in conservation, community outreach, conflict-remediation, or whatever the task may be, requires full buy-in, understanding, and effort from every person involved. A program achieves the greatest success only through the combined expertise of the farmers, the researchers/staff, the management, and the veterinarians. After all, conservation is just as much about improving human lives as it is about protecting and preserving the lives of animals.

My experience in Namibia came at the perfect time in my life, and was without a doubt the most personally fulfilling and inspiring journey I have been on. This opportunity solidified my resolve to pursue conservation medicine as a lifelong career. There are many problems that face our world and, although few of them can be easily solved, I believe that change can occur through collaboration and multifaceted approaches aimed at improving the lives of humans and animals together. Thank you to the Expanding Horizons program, to Cornell University, to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, to the Silent Heroes Foundation, and to everyone who supported me in making this trip possible. I look forward to completing veterinary school, and to the long journey that follows thereafter.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Zack is a third-year veterinary student from Watkins Glen, NY. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2015, with a double major in Biology and Animal Science. He is interested in the One Health approach to conservation medicine. In his future, he plans to use his veterinary training to find multidisciplinary approaches to international conservation that are sustainable and impactful. He is passionate about finding ways to preserve, protect, and promote our natural world by improving the health of humans and animals alike.

Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight: an open letter to the veterinary field

Welcome to the front line – it is a dangerous place to be, but you are not by any means unarmed. Whether you’re already a veterinarian or on track to becoming one, you are in the process of perfecting the skill set you will need to confront the assaults that threaten Life here on Earth. And I use the word “life” intentionally. You are neither just a dog doctor nor just a cow doctor. You are not a human doctor, either. So what are you, then?

Put simply, you are a special breed of scientific professional who swore, or will swear, an oath to protect the well-being of three critical things: animals, people, and the environments they inhabit. Your entire career as a veterinarian will be to protect Life on this planet, plain and simple. Fortunately, you will not be in this battle alone; in fact, for your entire career, you will seek clinical advice from your colleagues, consult new scientific literature, learn of advancements in food systems from producers, and communicate with experts in areas of study you never knew existed. Together, your team will identify the problems, make hypotheses, and find solutions. However, to uphold and protect the health of all, you will need to become an expert in one very important skill – collaboration.

Members of the Veterinary One Health Association (VOHA) at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, after a visit to Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) where they learned about transboundary animal diseases and the role of veterinarians in safeguarding public health and food security.

This past November, two seemingly unrelated clubs, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) and the Zoo and Wildlife Society (ZAWS) here at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine did just that, and co-hosted Dr. Alfonso Torres, former director of the USDA’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center, who lectured on the topic of Transboundary Diseases and Wildlife.  Our organizations wanted to epitomize the collaboration we seek to inspire between veterinary medicine and outside disciplines, while also presenting an exceptionally timely lecture as our national food production continues to become more interconnected with the larger global arena. In his talk, Dr. Torres commented on several diseases of interest to national and international food security. However, he put special emphasis on the impact of diseases like Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), African Swine Fever and Classical Swine Fever, as well as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), which pose the most significant threats to our nation’s food supply and economy. Aside from tens of billions of dollars in direct losses that could result from reduced animal production from these diseases, substantial indirect costs could be incurred from various control measures, loss of export markets, and plummeting feed prices.

Dr. Torres rounded off his lecture on a lighter note, by addressing how we can prepare for and prevent diseases that negatively impact national and international food security. His primary suggestion: increasing collaboration between veterinary medicine and other disciplines. Such interdisciplinary collaborations are becoming essential for effective conflict resolution – with respect to food security, public health, as well as wildlife and habitat conservation.

For example, the African continent is expected by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to increase its population by 100%, over 1.2 billion people, by 2050. Concurrently, demand for beef and milk products is expected to grow between 260 and 399%. Sustaining these human and animal populations will require tremendous increases in land and water use in an area considered by the World Bank to be the most vulnerable and least capable to handle the effects of climate change, including droughts, flooding, and subsequent desertification.  For the human population, increasing competition for food, water, and land combined with existing social tensions could lead to further humanitarian crises for the continent. For Africa’s endangered large mammal species such as the Hirola, Black and White Rhino, and Grévy’s Zebra, these next 30 years could spell complete disaster, as the last remaining pockets of untouched habitat are converted or destroyed by humans in order to enhance food production.  It is imperative that leaders in veterinary medicine, policy, environmental science, food production and other disciplines have shared and frank discussions about the state of our planet and what challenges they foresee.  By doing so, we will hopefully translate our shared concerns into meaningful policy changes and action plans that are in the best interest of animals, people, and the environment.

So in short, you as a veterinarian will need to stand guard for these coming years, as they will bring a myriad of challenges. Their forms will be endless – hunger, climate change, antibiotic resistance, overpopulation, pandemic disease, and war are just a few. The fact of the matter is that you will be there, and our world will need you. At the end of the day, however, it will not be individual knowledge that will save this planet. Instead, it will be the collective wisdom of many minds across this Pale Blue Dot, working together as a team towards one common objective – to protect Life. So my challenge for you is a simple one. Wherever you are and whatever your specialty, push yourself to collaborate. It will frustrate you; it will humble you; but, most importantly, it will inspire you. And through that inspiration, I hope you come to appreciate that this world is a remarkable one – and in fact, our only one. It needs our help now more than ever, and we must work together, as one, to protect it.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

J Hunter Reed is a second-year veterinary and Master’s of Public Health student from Minnetrista, Minnesota. In 2016, he graduated from Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences where he majored in both Animal Science and Biology.  Hunter now serves on the board of the Cornell Chapter of AABP and is primarily interested in food security, transboundary and zoonotic disease, as well as livestock sustainability.

Rachel Somma (2020): Flights and Frigate Birds in Belize

I’m really afraid of planes. Like, really, really afraid of planes. There’s just something about bouncing around in a metal cylinder 40,000 feet in the air that gets to me. This summer, I went to Minneapolis for about a month (but that’s a story for another time), and the plane ride was so scary for me that I swore I would never voluntarily ride on a plane again. Then, I got an email about a week-long summer course in Belize, and I promptly decided that I would get over it.

Belize is a small country in Central America, about the size of Massachusetts. Its official language is English, since it was liberated from British rule relatively recently in history. Cornell partners with the Belize Zoo for a class called “International Experiences in Wildlife Health and Conservation.” The course runs twice a year, once in January and once in July/August, and gives a small group of veterinary students the chance to travel to Belize with a team of Cornell veterinarians to assist with different procedures that need to be done on the animals at the Belize Zoo. The Belize Zoo is unique because all of the animals there are native to the country, and they were all “rescued” in some way: some of the animals were kept as pets by people who meant well but obviously weren’t equipped to raise a wild animal in their home, and some of the animals were injured or orphaned in the wild. The zoo serves to not only provide a safe place for these animals, but also to educate both tourists and Belizeans alike about the animals that live in Belize. The zoo’s founder, Sharon Matola, told us a story about an old man who once visited the zoo and teared up as he was leaving. When she asked him what was wrong, he replied that he had lived a long and full life, but this was the first time he had had the opportunity to see the animals of his country. This story, in addition to making me cry (don’t tell anyone), highlighted just how important the Belize Zoo’s mission is.

Rachel listens to a baby spider monkey’s heart.

Throughout the course of the week that I was at the zoo, I learned so much, both from the Cornell veterinarians who came with us and the zookeepers who took care of these animals every day. We got to tour the zoo twice: once during the day, and once at nighttime. This way, we got to see the nocturnal animals as well as the animals that were active during the day. The zookeepers who led the tours were so knowledgeable about all the animals, and it was clear that these people loved their jobs and the animals they took care of. We also got the chance to pet an American crocodile, hang out with peccaries in their enclosure, and get jaguar kisses from Junior Buddy, the zoo’s jaguar mascot (we sat in a cage and he licked us from where he stood on top of the cage…that counts as a kiss to me)!

I watched and sometimes assisted in multiple procedures, including an enucleation surgery on a jaguar with glaucoma, tuberculosis testing on spider monkeys, and multiple dental examinations and tooth extractions on jaguars, jaguarundis, a silver fox, and a kinkajou. My favorite case, however, was Maggie the frigate bird. Maggie was clearly in pain, had lost a significant amount of weight due to inappetence, and was just generally depressed; the zookeepers were upset that Maggie was suffering, and asked us to help her. Upon taking radiographs, we saw that she had severe osteomyelitis (infection of the bone) in several digits on both of her feet. Euthanasia was briefly considered, but the zookeepers and Cornell vets decided to try to amputate the infected digits first. The day after the amputation, Maggie was bright, alert, and clacking her beak like nobody’s business. Some people say that animals don’t have emotions, and I respectfully disagree, because that bird was obviously HAPPY that the source of her pain had been eliminated. Veterinary school is stressful, and it can be easy to forget why you’re here, but witnessing this sad, painful bird transform into a joyful animal reminded me that veterinarians make a tremendous difference in the lives of the animals they treat and the people who love these animals.

“This is Xunantunich, the Maya site that we visited. We climbed all the way to the top!”

I’d like to think I gained not only veterinary knowledge, but also “life knowledge” while in Belize. Physiology class turned out to be very relevant when I became extremely dehydrated; I will never travel without bringing some electrolyte tablets with me ever again (live and learn!). We took a field trip to the city of San Ignacio, where we visited various little shops and restaurants and talked to locals. It was interesting to see how people run businesses and support their families in a society that doesn’t have a Wal-Mart down the street. We also visited (and climbed to the top of!) a Mayan archeological site, where we learned about Belize’s history and culture. It was surreal to stand on the top of a structure that was built almost 1,500 years ago.

I never thought I’d say this, but the plane ride was totally worth it. I am so thankful for the Cornell veterinarians, who taught us a remarkable amount in just a short time, my fellow vet students, who made me laugh every single day, and the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, who accepted us with open arms. Both the veterinary and cultural experiences I had in Belize were absolutely incredible, and I would recommend this class to any Cornell veterinary student, regardless of their career interest.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rachel Somma is a second-year veterinary student at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. She is also concurrently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree through the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Rachel hopes to join the CDC’s Epidemiology Intelligence Service immediately after graduation, and then continue to combat the spread of zoonotic diseases and promote health among humans, animals, and the environment by working as a public health veterinarian for a national or international health organization.

The Realities of Infectious Disease Research in the Field

Thanks to funding from Expanding Horizons, this summer I partnered with Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) to conduct research in Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). CTPH is a non-profit non-governmental organization, focused on improving the health of animals and people around protected areas in Africa while also advancing initiatives in wildlife conservation. Put more simply, it addresses the reality that wildlife conservation cannot occur without simultaneous partnership with humans whose livelihoods are closely intertwined with, and often dependent on, the same resources that endangered wild animals need. In my opinion, one of the most interesting problems in wildlife conservation is how to make conservation a priority for everyone. Dr. Gladys Kalema Zikusoka, one of the founders of CTPH and the first wildlife veterinarian for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), was motivated to address this need. Since it was founded in 2002, CTPH has implemented public health programs in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, QENP, Mount Elgon, and other protected areas in Uganda. CTPH has worked in communities with significant interaction with wildlife, training Conservation Community Animal Health Workers to assist researchers in sampling animals and to report signs of disease outbreaks to UWA.

Buffalo (red box) grazing in close proximity to cattle.

My objective for this summer was to conduct research on the prevalence of brucellosis and tuberculosis, both zoonotic diseases with the potential to infect humans, in African buffalo and cattle in communities around QENP. Three different villages around QENP were chosen based on disease prevalence of free range cattle and proximity to the national park. In a study published by Dr. Gladys and other researchers in 2005, the prevalence of Mycoplasma bovis and Brucella abortus was 22% and 2%, respectively. The first survey of bovine tuberculosis in QENP in 1960, which was referenced in Dr. Gladys’ study, concluded that the disease had originated in cattle and spread to buffalo. Infected buffalo were only found in areas of the park close to villages with cattle that were positive for tuberculosis. Since this wildlife reservoir has been established, the challenge now is to eradicate the disease in both populations. My research consisted of conducting surveys of pastoralists, and sampling blood from cattle to perform laboratory tests for the infectious diseases. Having worked in research laboratories throughout my undergraduate career, it was easy for me to learn the procedure for the brucellosis serum agglutination test. However, it was much more fulfilling to conduct surveys because I learned so much about common practices in raising cattle outside the United States, perceptions of foreign researchers, and how it is extremely challenging to control all the variables when conducting research in the field.

To conduct surveys, I woke up at 5:30 am to drive to villages before the cattle were led, by herdsmen, into QENP to graze for the day. It was necessary for the cattle to leave so early in order to begin feeding before the heat of the day reached its peak. Our team once drove over five miles into QENP to chase after a specific group of cattle to sample. That journey was a testament to how much energy the cattle had to expend to find food, relative to the poor nutrition they received from the dry, brittle, and overgrazed grass.

Ugandan kob grazing with domestic cattle.

In a moment that made the fatigue from chasing cattle worthwhile, I spotted a buffalo and a few Ugandan Kob mingling with the cattle. Just as there are no boundaries between wildlife and livestock, there are no boundaries between livestock and humans in the village. If a buffalo infected with Brucella abortus were to have an abortion in QENP, and a grazing cow ingested the placenta or vaginal discharges, the infection could be passed to the domestic cattle. A human that drank raw milk from an infected cattle could then become infected, as well. The challenge of developing boundaries of QENP around and within pre-existing communities without allocating grazing land is there there are insufficient natural resources. Cattle cannot rely solely on grazing within the village. While the government punishes people for grazing cattle in QENP, it does not provide alternative methods to feed cattle that are affordable. Nutrition is essential because cattle or buffalo that do not receive enough nutrition from grazing have a less robust immune system to respond to and eliminate infection.

Before beginning my research, I traveled to each village and met each village leader. The village leader is an elected individual who holds the most political influence within the village. Dr. Kellen, a Ugandan wildlife veterinarian, translated information about CTPH, the research project, and what we would need. After receiving support from all three village leaders, we traveled from house to house with a local to facilitate introductions.

Despite the support of the village leaders, I immediately ran into opposition from community members. At the first house, before we had finished communicating the premise of our research, a villager interjected to say that many researchers in the past had come, collected samples from his cattle and asked him questions, but none had distributed any results or provided compensation. This theme was repeated throughout houses in all three villages. There were also accounts of researchers injecting vaccines around the tail-head of cattle and causing necrosis of the entire tail. Anyone who assumed that we were researchers from Ugandan Wildlife Authority refused to talk to us or allow us to sample their cattle. It was concerning to see that the governmental body responsible for protecting wildlife did not seem to have the support of the people. UWA charges entrance fees for almost all the protected areas in Uganda, for many safari and animal tracking opportunities, and for permits to conduct research on animals in Uganda. However, only a small percentage of this income is given to the communities around the national parks, provided that the people have demonstrated certain initiatives toward advancing wildlife conservation.

Once we explained that we were with Conservation Through Public Health, an independently-run, Ugandan-based organization with a history of disseminating results back to communities, the locals became much more receptive to participating in our research. I surveyed 51 pastoralists and sampled 97 cattle. Through the surveys,  I was able to analyze the risk factors, such as handling of newborn calves, slaughtering of cattle, and type of milk consumed, that could lead people to brucellosis infection. I learned that the local name for brucellosis was omusuja gwente, which translates to malaria of cows. Wildlife conservation will only succeed with teamwork from multiple different sectors, and without the pastoralists reporting infectious disease outbreaks to veterinarians and UWA, a significant player in disease detection would be lost.

As a result of the surveys, I identified certain practices that places people at risk for brucellosis transmitted from cattle, including close contact with newborn calves, and leaving aborted calves in the fields or feeding them to other animals. Thirty-nine percent of respondents had observed at least 3 clinical signs of brucellosis in their cattle (abortion, stillbirth, weak calf, retained placenta, orchitis/epididymitis). From the serum agglutination test for brucellosis, I determined that there was 0% prevalence of B. abortus in the cattle that were sampled. While this is positive preliminary data, more in depth investigation should and will be conducted to whether this is the true prevalence.

As a pre-veterinary student, a professor encouraged me to pursue both wildlife and livestock interests because of the need for veterinarians in developing nations. It was a concept that was very new to me then, but resonates with me now. My initial plans for darting and sampling buffalo for my project were canceled due to numerous bureaucratic issues, but I learned that wildlife veterinary medicine isn’t usually chasing outbreaks or performing surgeries. I have a lot more to learn and explore, but I am very glad to have journeyed to Uganda to get a glimpse of what is possible in the years to come.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Amy Trey is a third year veterinary student from Bayside, NY, interested in infectious diseases and the wildlife-livestock disease interface. She graduated from Duke University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. Currently, she is a member of the Cornell chapter of AABP, a volunteer at the Cornell Wildlife Health Center, and an emergency surgery technician at the Large Animal hospital.

Chronic Wasting Disease & Brainworm Lecture & Necropsy Lab

Chronic Wasting Disease & Brainworm Lecture & Necropsy Lab
Thursday, November 30th
5 -7PM @ Animal Health Diagnostic Center

Join ZAWS and Pathology Club for a lecture and lab on Chronic Wasting Disease & Brainworm infections in native ungulates, with Dr. Krysten Schuler and Anatomic Pathology Residents! Lecture will discuss control of these diseases in wild ungulates, and how to collect samples for diagnosis (with specimen demonstration). In lab we will be collecting samples from white-tailed deer specimens so please wear scrubs/lab coat!

Dinner will be served at 5PM in the atrium of the AHDC, followed by a lecture in Show and Tell, and finally dissections on white-tailed deer cadavers on the necropsy floor at 6PM.
If you intend on participating in the lab, you must attend the lecture (we have space for 54 people in the lab).

The lab is open to dues-paying members only! Pay $15 ZAWS dues to Margaret Odom, or $5 Pathology dues to Joann Lam before the event.