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.

Chimpanzee Medicine in the Republic of Congo

During the summer leading up to my third year of veterinary school, I worked with the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in the Republic of Congo. As part of the college’s commitment to wildlife health and international medicine, Cornell has established a partnership with JGI through the Engaged Cornell Program. Engaged Cornell gives veterinary and undergraduate students the opportunity to apply concepts learned in the classroom to field sites in developing nations across the globe. Students can elect to take an on-campus course during the spring term and apply for the opportunity to continue their studies abroad during the summer. Upon return, they take a follow-up course in the style of a seminar series, to share their work with faculty and peers, and to learn about their classmates’ experiences. Thanks to Engaged Cornell, I was able to work at Africa’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary alongside one of the world’s leading experts in the field, Dr. Rebeca Atencia.

Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center is currently home to over 130 chimpanzees, most of which fell victim to the illegal bush meat and pet trades early on in life. Through the efforts of Dr. Atencia and her team of nurses and caregivers, these animals are being given a second chance. JGI is currently working to prepare a number of these chimpanzees for release back into the forest, where they will have the opportunity to live as wild apes once again. Before that can happen, however, they need to be both physically and psychologically fit to survive the harsh realities of life in the rainforest. My efforts this summer were put towards ensuring the capability of these chimps to thrive outside of the confines of the sanctuary.

Some of my time in Congo was spent performing routine “health checks,” or comprehensive physical exams, on animals under the care of JGI. I participated in the anesthesia, general examination, cardiac evaluation, and abdominal ultrasonography of over thirty chimpanzees. I learned basic skills such as taking blood pressure measurements, giving injections, and drawing blood, and more advanced skills such as abdominal ultrasound, echocardiography, and designing anesthesia regimes. I gained invaluable hands-on veterinary experience that I truly could not have gotten anywhere else.

Melissa Hanson describes the results of a chimpanzee electrocardiogram at the Tropical Biology and Conservation Symposium, October 2017.

In addition to medicine, I spent much of my time analyzing behavior and social interactions of the chimpanzees. I became versed in their verbal and non-verbal language, watched alliances form, and saw individuals rise to power and dominance within their community. A chimpanzee’s well-being relies heavily on its sense of security in its social group, and the health of a chimpanzee community depends on the degree of harmony amongst its members. The knowledge base I formed through careful observation was pivotal for my participation in data collection during the integration of new chimpanzees into established social groups. During an integration, JGI caregivers and veterinarians carefully record behaviors, to ascertain whether a chimp will be accepted by its conspecifics or not. Things happen very fast, so it is imperative that observers be well-acquainted with the chimps’ social cues. In time, I was confident enough with my skills to participate in this data collection, and even had the chance to make recommendations as to which individuals to introduce to the group.

My experience did not stop there, however. While in Congo, I also had the chance to work with a variety of unique native species, such as Mandrills, a Tree Pangolin, and African Grey Parrots. During time spent with JGI’s education and public health teams, I visited local villages to discuss conservation and sustainable agriculture with their people, as well as provide parasite preventatives for their pets. I also gained a lot of experience in the laboratory analyzing blood and fecal samples and screening for infectious disease among the chimps. Additionally, I participated in several ongoing research projects at Tchimpounga and even could explore some of my own interests and questions. One endeavor I am most proud of contributing to is the establishment of a preliminary body condition score (BCS) system for chimpanzees that will allow caregivers to monitor nutrition and well-being in a non-invasive manner. Hopefully, this scoring scheme will be used when the chimpanzees are being evaluated for their success in the forest after their release.

I am incredibly fortunate to have experienced all that I did this summer, and cannot thank the partners of JGI or Engaged Cornell enough for allowing me to pursue some of my greatest aspirations while still in veterinary school. Participating in chimpanzee medicine and rehabilitation allowed me to be a part of something much bigger than myself and to learn about a species with which I had never worked, but had always dreamed of. My time in Congo made me a better student, a better person, and will undoubtedly make me a better veterinarian in the years to come.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melissa is a third-year veterinary student from Cortlandt Manor, New York. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Duquesne University where she majored in biology and minored in biochemistry and history. Her interests are in clinical zoo and wildlife medicine and particularly rescue, rehabilitation, and release. She works as student technician at the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, a service of the Cornell University Hospital for Animals.

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.

Event: Monitoring Respiratory Disease in Wild Chimpanzees

Third year veterinary student Sarah Balik (2019) will present a lecture about her experience interning for the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda through the Engaged Cornell Program this summer. Her project consisted of monitoring the health of wild chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, conducting a retrospective epidemiological analysis to understand the zoonotic potential of previous lethal respiratory disease outbreaks among the chimpanzees in Kibale, and serving the local forest adjacent communities by volunteering with a mobile medical unit to provide medical care to people who lack access to doctors. Come to this lecture to see how wildlife health, public health and One Health concepts have real world implications!

This lecture is part of the Conservation with Communities for One Health weekly lecture series. This series features veterinary students and undergraduates who traveled to Indonesia, Republic of Congo and Uganda to participated in the Engaged Cornell Program (VTMED 6743-6745 / NTRES 4150 – 4160) this summer and in preparatory coursework during the previous semester. The lectures will be every Tuesday at 4pm in LH2 during Fall semester 2017.

Expanding Horizons Bio: Eric Teplitz (2020)

Eric Teplitz (2020) in Malawi through the Expanding Horizons program at CUCVM

My name is Eric Teplitz and I am a rising 2nd year veterinary student at Cornell. With an interest in infectious disease epidemiology, I participated in the Expanding Horizons Program with the goal of gaining applied research experience in the field. I established my research project with the Silent Heroes Foundation and the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust in Malawi, an organization that promotes wildlife rescue & research, advocacy, and conservation education. Illegal bushmeat and pet trading are prevalent practices in Malawi that are destructive to ecological health and biodiversity. The Lilongwe Wildlife Centre was established as a sanctuary for animals subjected to such crimes and aims to rehabilitate and release them into the wild.

I have been at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre for the past seven weeks, and I have another two weeks before returning home. In my free time, I’ve had several opportunities to travel, visiting South Luangwa National Park in Zambia and Liwonde National Park in Malawi. I’ve also had the unique experience of scuba diving in Lake Malawi, which has a greater diversity of fish species than any other lake on Earth!

My research objective is to provide additional information for the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust’s primate release program. Release strategies of captive wildlife are based on several factors that determine if, when, and how an animal will be reintroduced. One such factor is the risk of disease transmission from reintroduced animals to wildlife populations and humans, as failure to evaluate these risks can lead to unintended disease communication.

Salmonella and Shigella are groups of bacteria that colonize the intestine and cause diarrhea and inflammation of the gut lining. They are spread via fecal-oral transmission – the bacteria are shed in the feces and subsequently ingested by another animal. These bacteria infect nonhuman primates and humans globally and are therefore critically important for both wildlife conservation and public health. Unfortunately, Salmonella and Shigella are difficult to treat medically, and consequently studying the patterns of shedding is important for informing disease management strategies through an understanding of transmission dynamics. At the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, I am studying the shedding patterns of Salmonella and Shigella in primates.

The primary objective of my project is to identify temporal shedding patterns of Salmonella and Shigella as well as risk factors that affect shedding. Some examples include stress, age, sex, body condition, patient history, and concurrent parasitic infection. I designed a sampling schedule upon arrival, and currently I am collecting fecal samples for bacterial culture and diagnosing parasitic infections via fecal flotation. I have been evaluating stress through behavioral analysis, monitoring for behaviors that characteristically indicate stress in primates (such as pacing, self-grooming, and excessive scratching).

The project involves components of microbiology, primatology, and epidemiology, and the interdisciplinary expertise I gained during my first year of veterinary school has allowed me to conduct my research successfully. Designing and implementing an epidemiology study has been a useful learning experience as I find ways to adapt to logistical and technical constraints while in Malawi. Throughout the past several weeks, I have become more familiar with the procedures for primate integrations and reintroductions, which has guided my experimental design so that I can provide the most important information. In my remaining two weeks in Lilongwe, I will do my best to produce useful data!

Wildlife Health: new faculty to focus on Planetary Health at Cornell CVM

Image from Dr. Osofsky’s “Explaining Planetary Health” article, One-Health Cornell Blog.

The CUCVM student community would like to extend a warm welcome to a number of phenomenal new hires in the wildlife health realm. Recently, the CVM has brought-on seven faculty and staff, with the goal of growing Wildlife Health / One Health / Planetary Health programs at a critical time in the College’s strategic planning.  The group strives to develop and apply science-based, multidisciplinary approaches to conservation, including through a focus on Planetary Health. In short, Planetary Health is a field focused on improving our understanding and applying appropriate metrics regarding the public health impacts of anthropogenic environmental change, so as to be able to inform decision-making in the land-use planning, environmental conservation, and public health policy realms. Planetary Health also provides a lens for the new CVM-led Master of Public Health program, with its first class starting in September of 2017. There have already been numerous excellent discussions and many new initiatives are underway, not only within the CVM, but throughout the University. Hopefully, new collaborative efforts will arise and continue to foster future discussions and cross-disciplinary action!

We look forward to the incredible things that will come from these new appointments, not only for Wildlife Health and Environmental Conservation at our University, but for conservation initiatives worldwide.

Please join me in welcoming:

Dr. Steven A. Osofsky, Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Health & Health Policy

Dr. Martin Gilbert, Senior Research Associate in Wildlife Health

Ms. Helen Lee, Wildlife Health & Health Policy – planning and operations

Ms. Shirley Atkinson, Wildlife Health & Health Policy – Southern Africa, AHEAD Program

Dr. Montira Pongsiri, Planetary Health Alliance Science Policy Advisor

Dr. María Forzán, Senior Research Associate in Wildlife Pathology

Dr. Mani Lejeune, Director of Clinical Parasitology and Senior Extension Associate at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Zack Dvornicky-Raymond is a current second-year vet student interested in wildlife conservation and One Health, and hopes to pursue a career focused on reproduction and population management in endangered/threatened wild species.