From Bees to Big Cats at the Special Species Symposium 2019

A banner welcomes students to the Symposium

Conservation, exotics, and wildlife are increasingly popular fields within veterinary medicine and last week Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine hosted the Special Species Symposium to shine a light on various topics within these fields. The Special Species Symposium brought speakers from a variety of backgrounds as well as students from Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Montreal together to discuss zoo, exotic, and wildlife medicine.

Dr. Robin Radcliffe presents about bee health

Topics discussed ranged from utilizing pathology in conservation to antibiotic therapy in pocket pets to marine mammal rehabilitation. Students also had the opportunity to participate in a number of wet labs including invertebrate clinical skills, darting, turtle shell repair, and avian orthopedics. The symposium opened on Saturday with a lecture from Dr. Robin Radcliffe about honey bee health and the developing role of veterinarians in honey bee management. Dr. Radcliffe discussed the agricultural and economic value of bees and the new federal regulations that require veterinarians to prescribe antibiotics for bee colonies. For the rest of the symposium we got to choose which speakers we wanted to listen to. I listened to Dr. Karen Terio’s lecture, where she discussed the importance of pathology in conservation and how it contributes to species health. She finished by advising those aspiring to work in conservation to develop a skill and use that to market themselves.

Dr. Terio was followed by Dr. Peter DiGeronimo, who gave a lecture on marine mammal rehabilitation and how it affects ocean health. He described how rehabilitation can have conservation, scientific, and social benefits. Wildlife rehabilitators have the most contact with free-ranging wildlife, and can act as sentinels to monitor emerging diseases arising in wild populations. This is especially important in species with low population numbers because the individuals that are able to be returned to the wild have even greater impacts on the species as a whole. He emphasized the role that wildlife rehabilitation centers can play in providing data about various species that researchers may not be able to gather. Finally, he stressed the importance of researchers establishing good relationships with rehabilitators to break down the distrust that some have regarding the motives of researchers.

One of the last lectures on Saturday was on the care and conservation of large felids, given by Dr. Michael McEntire. He discussed various aspects of managing large felids in captivity such as the necessary housing requirements,  safety protocols, and restraint techniques. He emphasized the importance of behavioral restraint which involves training animals in certain ways to make them easier to handle and decrease the associated stress. For example, you can train them to present their tails for blood draws or their flanks for injections, and in this way avoid having to anesthetize them for what should be relatively simple procedures. Then Dr. McEntire transitioned to felid diseases such as vitamin A deficiency, myelopathy in cheetahs, and canine distemper virus in lions. Other lectures given on Saturday included an overview of amphibian diagnostics, a session of clinical updates from the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, and an update on emerging infectious diseases in reptiles.

Demonstration of how to handle invertebrates, such as the tarantula pictured

During the Saturday afternoon lab sessions, I participated in the invertebrate clinical skills lab. The lab was split between arachnids and marine invertebrates. We learned proper handling techniques of arachnids and how to identify common health problems such as dehydration, or how to ensure the tarantula is able to molt appropriately. We also learned ways a clinician could correct these issues or advise an owner in correcting them. Additionally, we were taught proper anesthesia protocols for lobsters and learned some necessary anatomy for horseshoe crabs and various bivalves including oysters and clams.

Attending students from all schools pose after the first day of the symposium

The highlight of Saturday, and the symposium in general, was the keynote speaker Dr. Susan Bartlett. Dr. Bartlett is a veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society and she discussed her path to getting that position. She explained how she dealt with various hurdles on her journey, such as having to reapply to veterinary school after not getting in the first time. She emphasized the importance of persistence and shared an anecdote of how she worked at a zoo scooping poop in order to gain elephant experience. Her determination eventually gave her the opportunity to accompany a research team and travel internationally to study elephants. Additionally, Dr. Bartlett discussed how the TV show, The Zoo, has helped to improve public perception of the Bronx Zoo as it sheds light on the amount of work and care zoo professionals dedicate to their animals.  

Dr. Noha Abou-Madi discusses EEHV

The next day of lectures and labs was just as interesting as the first. It opened with a talk by Katy Payne about whale and elephant communication. She discussed how novel it was to discover in the 1960’s that whales actually sing and the work she has done to analyze these songs. Male whales in the same area sing very similar songs that change every breeding season, and even throughout the season. It is theorized that female whales prefer inventiveness which drives the evolution of the songs over time. Dr. James Morrissey followed with a talk comparing GI stasis and obstruction in rabbits. He taught those in attendance how to identify one versus the other, and the best way to treat these differing conditions. Dr. Lauren Powers of Carolina Veterinary Specialists, went through how to effectively perform a neurological exam on avian patients. She played videos demonstrating different tests and explained what abnormal results might indicate. Finally, Dr. Noha Abou-Madi discussed the tragic occurrence of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) and how it manifested in zoos over 20 years ago. This virus can be devastating and has unfortunately killed a number of baby, mostly Asian, elephants. Dr. Abou-Madi detailed her role in researching and trying to culture EEHV. She also explained the current preemptive protocols in place that attempt to identify when an elephant calf contracts the virus, so treatment can begin before clinical signs emerge. She ended on a message of hope, because even though the virus is still unable to be cultured, there is increasing success in saving calves who contract the virus and research is ongoing to potentially develop a vaccine.

Students are shown the frames from a beekeeper’s hives

In the afternoon, I attended two labs. The first was a tour of the Cornell Bee Labs and the second was an avian orthopedics lab. The tour of the Bee Lab fit in nicely with Dr. Radcliffe’s Saturday lecture. We were able to see more in depth how beekeepers manage their hives and some of the problems that can occur. In the avian orthopedics lab, we learned how to place an intraosseus catheter, and how to set both a humeral and femoral fracture in birds.

Overall, the Special Species Symposium was an incredible opportunity to hear from top professionals in the fields of zoo, exotics, and wildlife medicine. It also provided a unique opportunity to network not just with Cornell students with similar interests, but also with students from other schools.


Cornell hosts the Special Species Symposium every 2 years.  For more information on the 2019 Special Species Symposium, visit the website here.


SAVMA Symposium 2018 – Wildlife Learning Opportunities

Skyline view of Philadelphia from our hotel room

Symposiums and conferences are times when professionals gather to share information, techniques, and participate in activities that will improve their skills. The Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, or SAVMA, held its veterinary student symposium this past week. It was a great opportunity for students of all veterinary disciplines to mingle with one another and with successful veterinarians in their field. This year’s SAVMA Symposium was held at the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary college, PennVet, in the city of brotherly love.

At the symposium, students had the opportunity to attend lectures in a variety of veterinary medicine fields, from small animal specialty medicine topics to large global scale issues in One Health. As a student interested in zoo and wildlife medicine and One Health, I attended many interesting lectures on topics from “Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Strandings” to honey bee biology and pathology.

A personal favorite of mine was one lecture that discussed the role of a zoo veterinarian in conservation. The speaker discussed the varying degrees with which international medicine can be incorporated in a zoo veterinarian’s career, and that each individual chooses how large of a role it plays in their life. While one person may want to spend their entire career working on the conservation of a particular species in a particular region of the world, others can work on more short term projects for three to four weeks, and return to their “home base”. Listening to the stories of other veterinarians who chose one path or another encouraged me to imagine myself in their shoes. This lecture resonated with me because it allowed me to critically evaluate which path was best for me in light of my life goals and priorities.

In addition to the many lecture topics that were covered, there were also a variety of wet labs and day trips for students to attend during the symposium. These labs and trips also spanned many disciplines in veterinary medicine, including small and large animal medicine, One Health and Zoonoses, lab animal medicine, and much more! Behind the scenes tours of the Philadelphia Zoo and the Adventure Aquarium were top of the list for many zoo and wildlife oriented students. For students interested in zoo and wildlife medicine, available wet labs covered topics such as reptile physical exam, fish diagnostics, wildlife necropsy, and comparative medicine. I signed up for two wet labs, one on comparative anesthesia, and the other on ferret surgery.

Group photo taken at the dinner on the final night of the symposium

Myself and a group of students from various veterinary schools around the country caught a bus together early in the morning to attend the comparative anesthesia lab at PennVet. The lab kicked off with some mice handling skills, since we were using mice as our model. During the lab, we discussed different methods of anesthetizing different species of animals, as well as various drugs used on different species. We split into three groups of four and each student anesthetized one mouse. The different groups anesthetized their mice using either intraperitoneal or subcutaneous injection, while the individuals in each group anesthetized the mice using a different combination of drugs. We examined the different drug combination protocols and each protocol’s effects on the mice by careful monitoring, taking note of any side effects and how long it took for the mice to start feeling sleepy and subsequently lose their righting reflex. Throughout the lab, we discussed the different planes of anesthesia and how to evaluate whether or not an animal was in a surgical plane of anesthesia by testing a variety of reflexes, such as palpebral and withdrawal reflexes. We then safely recovered all the mice and regrouped to review anesthetic machines and gas anesthesia, which is another form of anesthesia that allows for rapid induction and recovery from anesthesia.

The next afternoon, I attended a ferret surgery lab, in which we discussed the diagnosis and variety of treatment methods of insulinomas and adrenalectomies in ferrets, as well as the most common surgeries that most ferrets need in their lifetime. The discussion detailed a step-by-step approach to diagnosing adrenal disease and conducting an adrenalectomy surgery on a ferret. Afterwards, we were able to practice performing adrenalectomies on cadaver specimens. While our bodies may look symmetrical, they most definitely are not internally. Removing a diseased left adrenal gland is simple in a ferret, since it is located amongst fat near the left kidney. The right kidney, however, lays on top of a critical blood vessel in the ferret, so surgery can be much more complex when removing a diseased right adrenal gland. Since my partner and I finished early, we also practiced completing a spay surgery on our ferret, and afterwards practiced different suture methods and using a skin stapler to close our abdominal incision. Next, we split into groups and practiced our communication skills with mock clients, who were lab volunteers. Each volunteer set up a scenario, and we, as veterinarians, would talk through the possible diagnoses and treatment options. Since surgery is a personal interest of mine, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a new and common surgery done in ferrets, while joking around with the wonderful PennVet clinican who was supervising the lab.

Nightlife in the City of Brotherly Love

In addition to all these events, students also had the opportunity to attend many professional development talks on varying subjects, including talks that addressed approaches to studying for the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), compassion fatigue, diversity issues, and business strategies. There were even yoga sessions, academic and athletic competitions, as well as a large trivia competition that were held during the symposium. These fun events helped students break the ice and intermingle while fostering some friendly competition.

The symposium was a great opportunity to establish new relationships while rekindling old ones. I was able to meet zoo and wildlife veterinarians who were living my dream. We conversed about the various unique paths they took to reach their goals, and how their personal priorities affected those decisions. I was also fortunate to have spent some time with old professors and classmates from my undergraduate career at Rutgers. Seeing how old friends have succeeded in their endeavors is refreshing and exciting!

SAVMA Symposium 2018 was a highly rewarding experience, both because of the great opportunities it afforded me in professional development, and for the fun times I had with old and new friends. I highly recommend that all veterinary students, no matter what field or species you are interested in, attend SAVMA Symposium at least once during their time in vet school.



Mary is a second year vet student from Staten Island, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science from Rutgers University in 2016, with a major in Animal Science. She is passionate about zoo and wildlife medicine, conservation, and education, and aspires to build a career around zoo/wildlife surgery and anesthesia.

Six speakers discuss different aspects of conservation medicine at the first annual Wildlife Health Day

Dr. Elizabeth Buckles discussing the histopathology of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease affecting North American bats.

Zack Dvornicky-Raymond DVM (’19)

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.

Mariah Beck (’20)

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 speaks at Wildlife Health Day 2018.

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.

Conference: Yale 2018 International Society of Tropical Foresters Conference

Tropical forest landscapes are complex systems shaped by interacting ecological, social, and multi-dimensional processes. Complexity includes the dynamic ecologies, socio-political regimes, and diverse stakeholder perspectives that converge within any given tropical forest locale. While many who live and work in tropical forest landscapes have acknowledged the need to move away from soiled management, challenges persist for addressing the socio-ecological complexity of forest landscapes.

Attending to socio-ecological complexity means adopting new frameworks that capture the range of drivers, stakeholders and knowledge in tropical forest management. The 2018 International Society of Tropical Foresters Conference will bring together practitioners, academics, and forest users to explore the thought, experiences, and methods used for attending to the complexity of tropical forest landscapes.

More information can be found on the website:

EVENT: WILDLIFE HEALTH DAY (time and location updated)

During this 1st annual event, ZAWS will be bringing a selection of diverse speakers, lecturing on topics ranging from the role of reproduction in conservation, the effects of plastic on biodiversity loss, and the importance of nutrition for wildlife conservation.

Featuring Keynote Speaker: Dr. Sharon Deem, Director of the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine

Veterinary Medicine in the Anthropocene Epoch:

The lecture will focus on the current challenges of the 21st century: minimizing the loss of biodiversity, feeding 7.6 billion people without causing too much harm to the planet, and mitigating the negative impacts of climate change on animal health. The lecture will be from the perspective of a wildlife veterinarian and her 20+ years of working on free-living wildlife health issues and with zoo collection animals at AZA accredited zoos. Dr. Deem will share stories from her work with elephants in Asia and Africa, turtle species from all over the world, and disease issues at the livestock–wildlife interface. Dr. Deem will also showcase what a veterinarian starting out can do for One Health.


Other speakers include:

Mariah Beck
Jason Sifkarovski
Zack Dvornicky-Raymond
Dr. Sara Childs-Sanford
Dr. Elizabeth Buckles
Dr. Robin Radcliffe

This lecture series will be followed by dinner and the keynote presentation.

Date and Time: Saturday, February 10, 2018, 12:30pm to 8pm

Location: Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine Atrium

Register here or through the email sent out on the ZAWS listserv.


2017 Wildlife Disease Association (WDA) Conference in Chiapas, Mexico

Passing under el Árbol de Navidad, the most unique of Cañón del Sumidero’s seasonal waterfalls.

This past summer, I received a grant from Cornell’s Student Chapter of the Wildlife Disease Association (WDA) to travel to the WDA 66th Annual International Conference in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico. The Wildlife Disease Association was founded in 1951 by a group of scientists from US and Canada with the mission of acquiring, disseminating, and applying knowledge of the health and diseases of wild animals with respect to their biology, conservation, and interaction with humans and domestic animals. Although the United States contributes about half of its membership, the remaining members hail from all around the world, and the annual conference provides a venue for them to meet, exchange ideas, and present updates on their latest research. For me, it was an incredible opportunity to both learn about, and meet experts in, the field I hope to enter.

Second year vet student Kristie Schott class of 2020) holds a ball python during a Zoo and Wildlife Society (ZAWS) wet lab at Cornell.

Aside from a few keynote speakers, the conference mostly consists of short thematically grouped 18-minute presentations interspersed with coffee and snack breaks, during which time attendees have the opportunity to view the posters, which change daily. The volume of information was staggering – over the course of the conference, there were nearly 100 talks given and an equal number of posters presented. Since the WDA is not strictly a veterinary organization, but rather highly interdisciplinary, their meetings bring together veterinarians, wildlife management agencies, and researchers specializing in a wide range of topics pertinent to wildlife health. This fact was clearly reflected in the sheer breadth of topics covered in the talks and poster presentations, which ranged from pathology to evolutionary genomics, and from disease ecology modeling to reports on disease outbreaks and their implications for management and conservation. Speaking as someone interested in clinical zoo medicine, wildlife medicine, and wildlife disease research but unsure what form a career combining those focuses might take, this helped expand my awareness of the many approaches to studying and safeguarding wildlife health.

Another notable feature of the WDA is that it is remarkably student-friendly. A full day of the proceedings at each conference is dedicated to student talks and posters, and the WDA offers several student prizes and travel grants to recognize students’ achievements and support their participation in the conference. They also held a student-mentor mixer after dinner at the end of the first day, although without a clear way to tell who was a student and who was a mentor, I’m not sure if it was ultimately any more helpful than all the other less formally organized opportunities to mingle. Then again, as a fairly reserved and introverted person, I tend to struggle to take full advantage of those kinds of networking opportunities – what if I introduce myself and then can’t think of anything to say? How awkward that would be! Thankfully, the senior WDA members were generally quite friendly and eager to meet fresh faces.


Built in the 16th century, la Catedral de San Cristóbal overlooks the city’s main square, known as the Zócalo, as well as the Plaza de Paz.

Given its location, the conference also offered an opportunity to visit a beautiful place and catch a glimpse of its vibrant culture. This didn’t come without a price – I had to take three flights, sprint through the Mexico City airport at 7am to make a connection, and catch a bus from Tuxtla Gutierrez up into the mountains before finally setting foot on the cobbled streets of San Cristóbal – but it was well worth the journey. Located high in the mountains of the state of Chiapas, San Cris, as the locals call it, is considered the cultural capital of the region and features a large artisans’ market showcasing the richly colored textiles the area is known for as well as multiple museums dedicated to textiles and traditional local dress, chocolate, Mayan medicine, amber, and jade. Politically speaking, the city’s culture has also been influenced by the ideology of the Zapatista uprising and the movement’s charismatic spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos. On New Year’s Day in 1994 – the day NAFTA went into effect – the city, along with several nearby municipalities, was seized by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, and although the Mexican army quickly regained control of the region, the Zapatistas used the uprising as a platform to raise global awareness of their agenda, which called for increased democratization of the Mexican government and indigenous control of local resources, particularly land. The group’s focus has since shifted from military action to civil resistance and politics, and local attitudes seem to remain sympathetic to the movement with a strong ethic of respect for indigenous rights clearly demonstrated in the numerous politically-minded cafes with posters of Zapatista quotes on their walls and shops sporting sign reading, “We respect indigenous rights – do you?”

One of a pair of spider monkeys placed in the canyon as part of a ZOOMAT conservation project.

Aside from its indigenous cultures, Chiapas is known for its natural beauty and biodiversity. The state boasts over 11,000 species, including 140 fish, 109 amphibians, 227 reptiles, 694 birds, 206 mammals, and 6.5% of the world’s butterfly species. The landscape, for its part, is speckled with beautiful mountain vistas, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls.  Sadly, I didn’t have enough time San Cris to experience much of this bounty, but thanks to the WDA’s tradition of inserting a field trip day into the middle of the conference, I did get to visit the spectacular Cañón del Sumidero.  Carved out by the Grijalva River, which travels 8 miles through the canyon’s vertical walls, Cañón del Sumidero is 1000 meters deep at the walls’ highest points, features several unique waterfalls, and is home to 4 protected species of fish, 12 protected reptiles, 195 species of birds, and 53 species of mammals. Depicted on the state’s coat of arms, the canyon is also a significant location in the culture and history of the region. The local Chiapanecas people resisted Spanish conquest for many years, and legend has it that when their last mountain stronghold had fallen, the remaining survivors retreated to the canyon and jumped from its highest point rather than risk being captured and enslaved. However, in spite of its ecological and cultural significance and its protected status as a National Park, the canyon is plagued by pollution with agricultural waste, sewage, and trash, particularly in the rainy season when runoff from heavy rains sweeps garbage from the streets of nearby cities into the river. On our way back through the canyon, we stopped at a bend in the river where the currents caused much of the trash to accumulate, choking the river in a massive tangle of plastics and driftwood. While our guides used this as a teachable moment to emphasize the importance of curbing pollution to protect natural places like the canyon, their lesson stopped at “be sure to dispose of your waste in the proper receptacle” with no mention of ways to reduce waste generation in the first place. Many people rely on disposable plastic water bottles when travelling, but there are ways to use reusable bottles while still ensuring that the water is safe – boiling water, for one, or using water treatment drops, as I did. While such alternatives may not be accessible to everyone, I think raising awareness of their existence is still an important component of conservation programming.

I highly recommend attending the WDA Annual International Conference to anyone who has the opportunity to do so. And while it’s definitely worthwhile to attend as a student even if you don’t have any research to present, I would also encourage anyone on the fence about submitting an abstract to go for it! Although our student WDA chapter offered a total of 4 grants to attend the conference, only 3 people applied, and, of those 3, I was ultimately the only one to attend the conference, which I think serves as a reminder that sometimes – maybe not often in this field, but sometimes – our biggest obstacle to taking advantage of an opportunity is submitting the application. I know I sometimes shut myself out of opportunities by telling myself that I’m unqualified or not ready and never applying, and maybe some of those times I’m right. But then again, maybe I’m not, and I’ll never find out if I don’t step out of my comfort zone and give myself a chance. The next conference will be August 5-10, 2018 in St. Augustine, Florida, and abstracts are due by March 1st. I hope to see some of you there!


A member of the class of 2020 at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Kristie grew up outside of Boston, MA and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 2014 from Princeton University, where she concentrated in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and was first exposed to the field of wildlife disease research. She aspires to pursue a career combining clinical zoo and wildlife medicine with research on the ecology and epidemiology of diseases affecting her patients’ free-ranging populations.

EVENT: Insectapalooza

The Department of Entomology will be hosting their annual insect fair where visitors can interact with live insects, spiders, and other arthropods.  The cost of entry is $3 per person.  For more details, go to the entomology website or check out the video from last year’s Insectapalooza:

When: Saturday, October 28 between 9 am and 3 pm

Where: Comstock Hall

Focus on Planetary Health at the Tropical Biology and Conservation Lightning Symposium

The worlds of veterinary medicine, public health, conservation, and ecology came together during Saturday’s Tropical Biology and Conservation Lightning Symposium.  The symposium consisted of 23 five minute talks, given by veterinary students, graduate students, undergraduate students, and professors.  Dr. Steven Osofsky DVM, Jay Hyman Professor of  Wildlife Health & Health Policy, gave the hour-long keynote speech.

Dr. Steve Osofsky discussing human health as an opportunity for conservationists.

Dr. Osofsky discussed a wide range of topics from Canine Distemper in Amur tigers, to rhino conservation, to Foot and Mouth Disease in African livestock.  The presentation shifted to a human focus as he discussed how economically disadvantaged areas benefit greatly from ecosystem services.  Osofsky spoke about Dr. Christopher Golden’s research in Madagascar, which showed how villages with low levels of wildlife had higher rates of childhood anemia.  Some of the villages had allowed outsiders to hunt the local wildlife, reducing the amount of bush meat available for the local population.  Dr. Osofsky noted that “by educating the villages themselves, they all of a sudden saw wildlife as relevant to the future of their entire family lineage.”  He concluded his talk by explaining the term “Planetary Health” and emphasizing the opportunity that human health provides to conservationists.

Sarah Balik discussing her research on Chimpanzee respiratory diseases.

For the rest of the symposium, students gave five minute “lightning talks” on their research in different fields.  Veterinary student Sarah Balik (’19) presented her work with the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda on respiratory diseases in chimpanzees.  In the spirit of planetary health, she compared data collected from locals during health screenings to data on respiratory diseases in wild chimpanzees, to determine the relationship between human-chimpanzee contact and disease outbreaks.  Balik found that there was no correlation between the timing of outbreaks of human and chimpanzee respiratory disease.  “This is a preliminary epidemiological study, so further research needs to be done to determine what is causing so many chips to die of respiratory disease in Kibale. In addition, researchers and workers at the field site spend much more time in contact with the chimps. Foreign researchers weren’t included in the study and have the potential to bring diseases with them, so biosecurity measures also need to be taken to prevent researchers from transmitting disease to the chimpanzees they work with,” Balik said.

Melissa Hanson (’19), another vet student who worked through the Jane Goodall Institute, discussed her experience working with cardiologists on wild chimpanzees in the Republic of the Congo.  Several veterinary students talked about infectious disease, such as Eric Teplitz (’20) who presented his work in Malawi on the shedding patterns of Salmonella and Shigella in primates, Rachel Hilliard (’19) who discussed her research on tick-borne diseases in goats within Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, and William Fugina (’19) who worked with the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia to study the vector biology of Trypanosoma evansi, a pathogen in water buffalo that threatens the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros.

Molly Chirunomula talking about her work with the Ara Project.

Molly Chirunomula (’19) worked with the Ara Project in Costa Rica, which aims to conserve local macaw species.  The center was unable to breed their great green macaws.  Molly conducted an intake study of the macaws’ diets to try to identify nutritional causes of poor reproductive success.  She found that the macaws were consuming low levels of fat, protein, and calcium, all of which are important for egg production.  Molly recommended a change in diet that would mimic the birds’ natural seasonal dietary variation, and exclude animal protein.  By implementing Molly’s recommendations, the Ara Project succeeded in breeding macaws by the next breeding season!

Zack Dvornicky-Raymond (’19) worked with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, which serves to address a serious threat to the cheetah population: farmers hunting cheetahs to prevent them from killing livestock.  The Cheetah Conservation Fund breeds guard dogs for farmers, to give them an alternative way to protect their livestock.  When Zack started working with the organization, they were having difficulties breeding the dogs.  Zack, who has prior experience in canine reproduction through the Travis lab at Cornell, helped to diagnose the problems in their breeding program and develop protocols for more successful breeding in the future.

Robert Marquez explaining strategies for protecting the Andean bear.

Of the non-veterinary talks, some were aimed at wildlife conservation, such those of Robert Marquez, who studied conflicts between humans and Andean bears, and Steven Sevillano-Rios, who worked to identify conservation priorities in order to protect Peruvian birds.  Other talks were about basic science, such as Jay Falk’s presentation on female limited polymorphisms in hummingbirds.  Dr. James Lassoie finished off the five minute presentations with a critical discussion about the unintended consequences of conservationism.

Overall, the symposium successfully brought together researchers and students from across campus, tackling a diverse array of tropical conservation and ecological problems.  Many speakers emphasized the importance of working with local communities and other disciplines to achieve both conservation and human health goals.  Dr. Osofsky opined – “if we do this next year, I want to see more economists, students from the business school, communication students, social scientists…”  Hopefully, future symposia will further bridge the gap between disciplines, helping the academic community pursue One Health.


Complete list of speakers at the Tropical Biology and Conservation Symposium

Written by Jonathan Gorman, Events Journalist and Photographer, Class of 2021.

Tropical Biology & Conservation Lightning Symposium

Saturday October 21st
10:00am to 3:00pm
Emerson Hall Room 135

The symposium will start with a Keynote by Dr. Steven Osofsky from the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, entitled “Wildlife Health in a Rapidly Changing World,” followed by 24 lightning talks by Cornell faculty and students regarding the ecology, health, and conservation of tropical organisms and ecosystems.

The event is open to the public and the whole Cornell Community. If you have any questions, or need any accommodation to attend the event, don’t hesitate to contact us at

Sustainable Biodiversity Fund Symposium

The Sustainable Biodiversity Fund Symposium will be held on October 5th in the Morrison Room, A106 Corson-Mudd Hall.  The event will start at 1:45 and will feature many short talks.  Refreshments will be served.  Bring your own reusable cup or mug.

The Sustainable Biodiversity Fund provides support for graduate students and postdocs doing biodiversity research.  For more information go to their website here: