Dr. Zachary Dvornicky-Raymond, DVM graduate, Cornell University 2019

Two years ago, nearly to the day, I sat across from Dr. Marc Valitutto in a conference room at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. Marc and I spoke for over an hour about my lifelong dream to work in conservation, and how that has manifested itself as a goal to become a field veterinarian. At one point, Marc folded his hands and looked me in the eye.

“So you want to be a field vet, huh? You want to do the work I do? It’s not easy, but if it’s what you want, I’ll teach you everything I can…”

In March, I boarded a plane at JFK International Airport with a course set for Chengdu, China. Over a year of intense planning, contract negotiation, grant writing, and late-night phone calls had lead to the first partnership between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding (CPB). Through a similar (albeit less intense) series of events, I secured an opportunity to join Marc in the field. Made possible through funding granted to me by the Expanding Horizons program at Cornell University, I became the first student to join the SCBI-Chengdu Panda Base partnership. As a representative of Cornell and the Smithsonian, I had an invaluable opportunity before me to further the mission of the partnership, help build relationships between institutions, and above all, finally get to experience veterinary medicine in the field first-hand.

What awaited me when I got off that plane completely shattered my expectations.

Entrance to “Panda Valley” in Dujiangyan, one of the research sites we frequently visited.

Entrance to “Panda Valley” in Dujiangyan, one of the research sites we frequently visited.

The partnership between the SCBI’s Global Health Program and the CPB is primarily aimed at building veterinary capacity at CPB, with the goal of improving the clinical and research capabilities of the teams there. Doing so will benefit giant panda conservation in many ways, including bettering health management for captive pandas at the base, enhancing research of giant panda health and disease, and improving our understanding of giant pandas in the wild. It is not an overstatement to say that this partnership is unprecedented. For me, being a part of this work is everything I had ever hoped for.

Zack performs an oral exam on a yearling. Health checks are performed on all pandas at the base, both for preventative medicine and research.

Zack performs an oral exam on a yearling. Health checks are performed on all pandas at the base, both for preventative medicine and research.

Our days were split between clinical medicine with the giant and red pandas, developing protocols for clinical techniques and disease prevention, research, and teaching opportunities. Marc and I worked closely with the veterinary and research teams at CPB to identify areas of need, and then develop ways to meet those needs. For me, it was an opportunity to utilize my 8 years of combined basic science and veterinary training to the fullest. We organized and conducted training sessions on everything from electrophysiology of the heart to proper darting technique and safety.

Looking back, I am amazed by how much we were able to accomplish over those two months. I should note, however, that even as I was teaching, I was also learning. I learned an incredible amount from the veterinary staff at CPB, and even more from Marc himself. Each day was filled with countless moments where I would transition between teacher and student. It was such a wonderful feeling to be able to collaborate and learn from one-another in such an open, free-flowing way.

Dr. Marc Valitutto (left), Dr. Ohnmar Aung (middle), and Zack (right) at the USAID-PREDICT Myanmar conference in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

Dr. Marc Valitutto (left), Dr. Ohnmar Aung (middle), and Zack (right) at the USAID-PREDICT Myanmar conference in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

At the end of my time in China, Marc and I visited reintroduction sites for giant pandas and met with the leaders of the reintroduction program to provide a veterinary perspective to their ongoing work. We also travelled to a remote research and breeding facility for Chinese monals, a beautiful, yet endangered bird endemic to China. This facility is tucked deep within the Sichuan mountains, the perfect place for a nature lover. These trips gave me an opportunity to see the beauty of China, and to take a moment to reflect on why we work as hard as we do: it is all for the conservation of this beautiful world to better the lives of the people and animals that inhabit it.

A view from one of the field sites, deep within the Sichuan mountains. At dawn, fog fills the valleys and magpies flitter between trees.

A view from one of the field sites, deep within the Sichuan mountains. At dawn, fog fills the valleys and magpies flitter between trees.

Between the fulfilling work, the beautiful nature, the wonderful people, the rich culture, and the incredible food, I cannot speak highly enough about my experience in China. The lessons learned and memories made during that journey will help guide and enrich me throughout my life. I felt a deep sense of belonging and purpose throughout my experience, and am fully invested in committing myself to this path.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked with the people and animals that I did, and to have such great mentorship along the way. I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the Expanding Horizons program, and for the guidance I have received from my mentors at Cornell. I would like to especially thank Marc for taking me under his wing; for being such an excellent mentor and an amazing friend. I have merely scratched the surface of what it means to be a field veterinarian and a conservationist. Fortunately, I have a whole life of exploration ahead of me.

Dr. Martin Gilbert, Wildlife Health Cornell Carnivore Specialist

The fate of our wildlife lies at the hands of our policy makers – an obvious statement perhaps, but sometimes these forces work in unexpected ways.

Here in Tajikistan, on a beautiful day in Dushanbe, the sun filters down through an arbor hanging thick with grapes, flashing a glare across my computer screen. I am in the midst of a welcome few days of respite, snatching time to write up my research on health and it’s impact on Russia’s Amur tigers. I’m a slow writer, but gradually my manuscript begins to take shape – the culmination of seven years of work. My story traces 25 years of tiger history, using telltale antibodies in the blood of captured tigers to explain their changing fortunes and their exposure to the often lethal canine distemper virus. A key riddle is this…

Amur tiger in winter. Photo by John Goodrich/WCS

Amur tiger in winter. Photo by John Goodrich/WCS

Our detection of infections in a bear and a leopard in the early 1990s confirm that distemper has a long history in Russia’s Far East. Yet despite this, tigers showed no sign of exposure until the 2000s, after which the virus has become an important threat with over a third of their population now showing signs of exposure, and deaths recorded periodically since. The question is why didn’t tiger infections happen earlier….?

Pausing to mull on the wording of another sentence, my eyes are drawn to the cold metallic stare of a bronze ashtray on my table, fashioned in the shape of an Arabian horse’s head. Far from a mere kitsch trinket, this equine bust represents a little nugget of history. I’d been told that years earlier this modest artefact had housed the butts of none other than Russian Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin! …Considering that my host is the nephew of Tajikistan’s first premier this is quite believable. An old faded photograph shows him as a three-year old at a picnic with the architect of glasnost, during which he is reputed to have likened the Soviet leader’s bald pate to the hairless dome of his pet tortoise!

Gorbachev's Ashtray

A slice of history - an ashtray once used by Russian presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Photo by Martin Gilbert/Cornell

In many ways the story of my tigers and the illustrious history of this truncated horse are intertwined, for both tell of the political winds of change and the fate of the Soviet Union….

Despite its name, canine distemper virus has more cosmopolitan tastes than man’s best friend and I now know that infection of wildlife is far more important than of dogs for transmission to tigers in the Russian Far East. Among the affected species the marten-like sable is king, for these feisty and abundant small carnivores act as a reservoir of infection driving the epidemiology of the virus in wild Russian ecosystems.

Sable (Martes zibellina)

Sable (Martes zibellina). This abundant wild carnivore is an important reservoir of distemper. Photo by Е.Медведева - zapbureya.ru

Economics may lie at the heart of the tiger’s distemper story, which is driven by the unlucky sable’s one valuable resource: its luxuriant fur pelt. Viruses like distemper need a steady supply of naïve animals to infect. An infected young sable might die, but survivors become immune for life. In heavily hunted populations fewer sable survive to old age, reducing numbers of immune adults (i.e. decreasing the herd immunity), and increasing the likelihood that distemper will encounter a naïve youngster. Although difficult to prove, my research suggests that hunting may be the catalyst that has allowed distemper to flourish in the tiger’s forest. Let me explain…

Returning to history, in the late days of the Soviet Union, fur trappers plied the forest, harvesting up to 20% of the local sable population each year. Then in the dark economic days following the Soviet collapse, as Gorbachev gave way to Yeltsin, the demand for luxurious sable fur crashed, and hunting declined as trappers looked elsewhere to make their living.  The respite from hunting was a boon for sable but brought hard times for distemper as immunity increased across the aging sable population, robbing the virus of naïve hosts. In these conditions, the exposure of tigers also slowed, as revealed by our blood samples from the 1990s. But the effect was short-lived.

By the close of the decade a new more outward looking Russian state and burgeoning international trade opened new markets for fur, leading to a return to hunting. By 2000 fur trapping had reached pre-Glasnost levels and has intensified since, with as many as 40 or 50% of sable hunted each year in 2013 and 2014.

US Presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush with Mikhail Gorbachev in NYC 1988

U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush with Mikhail Gorbachev in NYC, 1988

With hunting at these scales few sable survive into adulthood, and the younger naïve population is for distemper what a tinder-dry forest is for wildfire. As distemper flares-up, spread to tigers is inevitable, and although infrequent, can be enough to threaten their rare and fragile populations.

Back at my computer in Dushanbe and grappling with my writer’s block I look across at Gorbachev’s horsehead gazing back from his perspective of history. Time moves on and the changes he’s seen bring hope. While today he sees a world full of challenges for tigers, he also sees a society becoming more urbanized and abandoning their rural ways. Looking ahead, perhaps he sees a future with society reshaped by the forces of policy and economics, and a time when the interplay of hunting and disease becomes kinder on the lives of the sable and the tiger.

Martin Gilbert is actively fundraising to support field studies to address gaps in our understanding of wild carnivore ecology and disease threats, which are critical to effective conservation.

For further information:

Dr. Martin Gilbert, Wildlife Health Cornell Carnivore Specialist

While sitting in a café contemplating the surrounding forested hills, it struck me that there is something unique about the city of Thimphu in Bhutan. What other country can boast the presence of tigers in forests that lie within sight of their capital? And Bhutanese anomalies don’t stop there. Elsewhere tigers are a lowland species, prowling the forest glades and valley bottoms across their Asian refuges. But here, a population of at least 100 tigers roams unimpeded from the low edges of the Brahmaputra floodplain to the lofty Himalayan ridges as high as 11,000 feet above sea level.

Prayer flags at Chelela, high above Paro.

It was a pursuit of the truth about one of these tigers that had brought me to this enigmatic Himalayan Kingdom. In March 2018, an adult tiger emerged from the forest on the outskirts of Thimphu. This impressive nine-year-old male was well known to researchers from camera trap images captured around the hills ringing the city. But from his most recent appearance, he was clearly in trouble. In scenes reminiscent of sick tigers observed in Russia, he walked as if in a trance in the daylight, unconcerned by the approach of people, and displaying nothing of the fearsome energy of a tiger in distress. This now familiar scenario has been seen repeatedly in Russian tigers infected with canine distemper virus, and it was this concern that brought me into contact with veterinarians with Bhutan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forests.

Team tiger. From left to right: Dr. Yoenten Phuentshok (veterinarian, National Centre for Animal Health), Dr. Kinley Choden (veterinarian, Nature Conservation Division), Dr. Tempa Tshering (National Tiger Center), the author (Wildlife Health Cornell Carnivore Specialist), and Sonam Wangdi (Chief Forestry Officer, Nature Conservation Division).

As we learn more about distemper in tigers, the threat it represents to wild populations is becoming clearer. The virus circulates widely among unvaccinated dogs as well as populations of common wild carnivores. As many as one in three tigers in Russia have been infected, and mortality is common. Even small increases in mortality rates can spell extinction for small tiger populations. But we still have much to learn, in particular the extent of the problem across the tiger’s distribution: at this time, the threat distemper poses outside of Russia is unknown, as potential cases elsewhere have not been thoroughly investigated.

Just as we’ve seen in Russia, the Bhutanese tiger’s condition declined despite several weeks of care in captivity, and then he succumbed. So far, this really sounded like distemper. Thinking this might at last be our opportunity to learn more about the disease in non-Russian tigers, and with an invitation from Bhutan’s Nature Conservation Division, I boarded a plane for the Himalayas to help with the diagnosis.

Tiger facade. Representations of tigers are a common sight on the walls of traditional buildings in Thimphu.

The approach into Paro International Airport is not for the faint-hearted. Located on the closest piece of flat land to Thimphu that is big enough to accommodate a landing strip (40 km away!), the descent into Paro takes you weaving up steep terrace-walled valleys and forested hillsides that flash past on both sides of the plane!

At first glance, Bhutan certainly seemed to bear the hallmarks of a country where distemper might be an issue. Nurtured by compassionate Buddhist traditions, the city of Thimphu teems with street dogs – packs of them, lying in doorways, across sidewalks and retreating into the shade under parked cars. At night they come alive, with residents lying sleepless in their beds thanks to a cacophony of howling and yammering canines!

Morning feed. Empathic Buddhists bring food for the street dogs of Thimphu to get them started on their day.

But it is here that our story takes an unexpected turn, as the tiger’s post mortem examination revealed something quite distinct from previous distemper cases. Within the confines of his skull, two coin-sized, fluid-filled cysts emerging from the surface of the brain, where they had been exerting pressure, were found: that could plausibly explain the tiger’s unusual behaviour. Closer examination, and further laboratory testing, revealed these cysts to be the refuges of the larval stage of the human tapeworm! Like many parasites, tapeworms have a complex life cycle, with time spent in at least two different animal host species. The adult stage of human tapeworms inhabit the intestines of infected people, laying eggs that are dispersed with their daily defecation. Where sanitation is poor, the peculiar appetite of pigs invites the second, and intermediate life stage, with eggs hatching in the porcine intestine, and the larvae burrowing their way into the tissues. Here they form a cyst and await ingestion by humans with a penchant for undercooked meat, and their life cycle repeats from there.

Bhutan is home to an estimated 100 Bengal tigers, which occur in one continuous population from approximately 600 feet to 11,000 feet above sea level. Photo by R. Gilbert.

Considering the series of chance events that a tapeworm follows through its life, it is perhaps not surprising that they sometimes happen to find the ‘wrong’ host… but it isn’t common! There have been just a handful of reports of domestic cats infected with human tapeworms, and never a case in a tiger (or indeed any other wild felid as far as we are aware).

This bizarre and possibly unique case, while devastating for the tiger, serves as a lesson for the rest of us. It illustrates the wonderful complexity of nature, and warns us to avoid making assumptions.

Canine companion at Chelela.

But the case also speaks to the intimate association between people, domestic animals and wildlife that dominates the modern world. With a human population approaching eight billion, we can expect more and more of these unusual events to occur, with infections moving between each point of the One Health triangle that connects humans, domestic animals and wildlife.

Meanwhile, our investigation into this case is ongoing. With the help of our Bhutanese colleagues, tissue samples from the tiger have now been brought to Cornell for a range of diagnostic tests. Our question is now whether there were other health-related factors that might have predisposed this unfortunate tiger to this most unusual of parasitisms. Most importantly, we must determine if this was a one-off case, or a sign of something more important for Bhutan’s precious tiger population.

Martin Gilbert is actively fundraising to support field studies to address gaps in our understanding of wild carnivore ecology and disease threats, which are critical to effective conservation.

Dr. Martin Gilbert, Wildlife Health Cornell Carnivore Specialist

On a sweltering monsoon afternoon in September 1994, I stepped out from a garish-painted bus in western Nepal, the driver pointing me south along a rough track threading off between vibrant green rice fields. At twenty years old, and on my summer break from veterinary school, I’d opted to backpack my way across the Indian subcontinent looking for adventure. With my fixation for wildlife, and tigers in particular, I’d been undeterred by the news that the great Indian tiger reserves were closed for the wet season, heading instead for a newly-opened border post in remote western Nepal. Established just six years earlier, Nepal’s Bardia National Park warranted just a few lines in my guidebook, but crucially mentioned that access was possible even during the high waters of the monsoon.

The lush green rice fields in Thakurdwara, some moody skies and a rainbow against a backdrop of the Himalayan midhills. Photo from 1994, by author.

After several miles walk I reached the sleepy village of Thakurdwara and was pointed to a basic mud brick building that served as the only budget accommodation for the rare visitor to the park. Several hours later, in the darkness of the early hours, I awoke to an urgent chorus from the black looming forest that ringed the village. Sharp barks of alarm from hidden spotted deer, or chital, that intensified to a crescendo – only to be cowed by the victorious bellow of a baying tiger.

By dawn I was electric with excitement! Together with my guide (a young lad of the same age as me), we waded across the chest-high river that bounded the park and set out into the forest. With the first rays of sun the shadows retreated to a chorus of birdsong. Vivid green parakeets cannoned overhead, and small groups of deer stepped nervously through the undergrowth. I barely knew where to look first, I was so distracted by the sights and the sounds. But my guide knew better, and his senses prickled knowing that something else was on the move.

Dawn stakeout along the river - sometimes it is best to wait for the wildlife to come to you, or just sit back and enjoy the day slide past.

Stepping out beyond the trees onto a road framed by towering elephant grass, two chital stood frozen barely fifty yards away. Their ears pivoting, they looked both toward us and back on down the trail, before taking their leave and stepping off into the grass. With that, time slipped as a familiar orange form emerged from cover, fixing us with a stare – irritated by a hunt interrupted. I couldn’t say how long it lasted – my first encounter with a tiger – but that image of her dark rimmed eyes framed in white left an indelible mark on me that remains to this day.

A pair of endangered swamp deer stags are on alert as we pass.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, it was with some trepidation that I returned to Bardia. That first trip had been so personal, such a mythical experience, that my thoughts had drifted back to it regularly over the years. My mental film reel included not just the tiger, but the rhino that chased me up a tree, and the encounter with an elephant in the forest at night. Surely a return risked breaking a spell, tarnishing an experience I have carried into a career with wildlife, a youthful adventure that ultimately brought me to work on the health of wild tigers themselves?

The intervening years had brought considerable change. Although still comparatively remote, Thakurdwara now bustles with life, its pulse now hitched to a knot of hotels and guided jungle walks. These days the roar of my midnight tiger had been usurped by a new generation, their village drum and bass pounding, speakers cranked-up to distortion.

It is best to give greater one-horned rhinos a wide berth - short-sighted and short-fused, these one ton hulks of armour-plated muscle can move surprisingly quickly!

But the forest was still there, and while I was no longer a solitary visitor, the park’s remoteness still deters the clamour of the selfie-snapping day-trippers that seem to converge on so many of the region’s reserves. The few visitors we encountered seemed content to soak up the scenery and wildlife in quiet appreciation. Together with some friends, I spent several pleasant days exploring the forest on foot along trails soft as flour pressed with the mark of the tiger’s pug. One of my companions got her own tiger initiation, with a tigress emerging from the midmorning heat to cool off in a riverine pool.

Relief in the heat of the day - a tigress emerges from the haze to take a cooling dip in the river.

That Bardia has changed in the quarter century since my first visit is no surprise. It never was the secret magical place of my memories, but a living breathing landscape, home both to the tigers and also a growing local population. Recent research has shown that Nepal’s parks are a net benefit for local people, adding wealth and opportunity to local economies. Inevitably society’s car horns and boom boxes invade the peace of a once tranquil forest. But who am I to dictate my own aesthetic? …These same people now recognise the value of the landscape and its wildlife, and feel benefits in their own lives. Surely these are the ingredients of wildlife’s future? In today’s Bardia, there are now twice as many tigers as when I visited 24 years ago, and there aren’t many places on Earth that can claim that!

Martin Gilbert is actively fundraising to support field studies to address gaps in our understanding of wild carnivore ecology and disease threats, which are critical to effective conservation.

Dr. Montira Pongsiri, Planetary Health Science Policy Advisor

I have spent my career at the science-to-policy interface, including when I had the honor to serve as the first Science Advisor at the U.S. Mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — a regional intergovernmental organization comprised of ten Southeast Asian member countries focused on cooperation for economic, political and sociocultural integration. Before coming to Cornell, this Science Advisor to ASEAN role had me based in Jakarta, Indonesia from 2012 to 2014, on secondment from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where I was an Environmental Health Scientist. Science had been an important component of U.S. diplomacy with the ASEAN region, and we were focused on applying science and technology to support ASEAN’s sustainability goals and to improve the capacity of science-based policy making. Together with ASEAN we developed science-based programs such as a Sustainable Cities Partnership to support climate adaptation and resilience planning, as well as the U.S.-ASEAN Science and Technology Fellows Program, modeled on the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellowships Program and its focus on strengthening capacity for science-based policymaking.

Since coming to Cornell to work on applying planetary health science to impact policy, I’ve prioritized building strategic partnerships with scientific and multilateral organizations to collaborate on applied demonstration studies. Recently, the Inter-Academy Partnership (the global network of National Academies of Sciences) and I organized a  planetary health meeting in Manila, hosted by the Philippines National Academy of Science and Technology. With the active participation of local academic researchers from the University of the Philippines, we presented a set of planetary health case studies in the Asia-Pacific Region, which covered ongoing work in the Philippines on the relationship between access to water, sanitation and hygiene (“WASH”) and the risk of water-borne diseases such as diarrhea. Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death among children under age 5 (more than AIDS, measles, and malaria combined), causing hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide every year as a result of poor access to clean water and sanitation. The World Health Organization estimated that more than 23% of all global deaths are linked to unhealthy environments. There is clearly an opportunity to improve health by improving the state of our natural systems and reducing environmental drivers of health risks. This is particularly urgent given the increasing pressure on our natural systems driven by our growing demand for basic needs such as water and energy.

Another one of my interests is the relationship between urbanization and planetary health, given the increasing risk of non-communicable disease impacting communities living and working in the built environment. At the International Conference for Healthy City Design, I helped organize a planetary health symposium introducing the field’s relevance to urban design practice. As a result, we have a new network of urban design practitioners (land developers, architects) with an interest in incorporating health into their practices. The annual conference organizers have committed to including a planetary health theme in future fora.

Since June, I’ve been representing Cornell as a visiting scientist at the UN Environment Asia-Pacific Regional Office in Bangkok, Thailand where I'm continuing work on planetary health demonstration studies while also helping UN agencies in the region to incorporate environment and health into their long-term strategic planning and activities. Many agencies in the UN system increasingly share an interest in addressing environmental sustainability and human health together – which means not just increasing understanding of critical environmental-health relationships, but also applying that understanding to inform policy through integrated assessments and cost-effectiveness analyses of different policy interventions to improve health.

With the UN’s renewed focus on environment and health relationships and its formal partnership with ASEAN, it’s a great time for me to be back in Southeast Asia. There is now cross-UN partnering on environment and health driven by the desire of Member States to take an integrated approach to addressing and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which all UN Member countries, including the U.S., have agreed to make progress on. The SDGs are the overarching priority of all UN agencies, and because of the interdependencies of the SDGs, they provide an excellent framework for applying planetary health principles to policy making. I feel quite fortunate to be representing Cornell while working with colleagues here in Southeast Asia on sustainably improving our environment, our health, and our shared future.

 

Dr. Rodman Getchell, Aquatic Animal Health Specialist

I don’t usually think of myself as a detective. I tell folks that we at the Aquatic Animal Health Program investigate fish kills for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). However, after recently being labeled a sleuth during Wildlife Health Cornell rounds, I looked up the definition. We certainly search for clues, conduct inquiries, and track suspects.

This past year, the invasive round goby was our fishy suspect. The crime we were investigating was an outbreak of the deadly disease, viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS). Round goby like these pictured here were dying with clinical signs of VHS.

Round goby from the Great Lakes, United States

Round goby from the Great Lakes, United States

The May 2017 incident occurred on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. Samples were collected, fish were necropsied, and rapid molecular tests quickly showed this dangerous rhabdovirus had entered our backyard. VHS threatens many of our top game fish throughout the Great Lakes. Here is a montage of 28 of the documented fish species susceptible to VHS. There is a reason the round goby is placed in the middle of these photos. Gobies have played a role in many of the VHS outbreaks since 2005.

The sleuthing began with the assistance of our AQUAVET® Summer Research Fellow, Erika First. She prepared the initial cDNA from several of the infected goby tissues from Cayuga Lake, as well as samples from the potential sources of the VHS virus (see map). Our hypothesis was the “suspects” had carried this virus with them using the Erie Canal “superhighway” to slowly make their way from either Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. Our fisheries detectives at Cornell and from the DEC and US Fish and Wildlife Service have tracked the goby movements throughout New York State. The red dots on the map show citizen science detection of round gobies from eDNA in water samples.

With the help of two more friends down campus at Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Jose Andres and Steve Bogdanowicz, we sequenced fifteen VHSV isolates and explored their genetic variation to determine the likely source of the May 2017 VHSV outbreak. The phylogenetic tree created with aligned viral sequences from the VHSV outbreak site and other New York locations appears to show the Cayuga Lake isolates were most closely related to the Lake Erie isolates.

Our final question for the round goby suspects was, “Did they have help from any of their human friends or did they swim all the way from Lake Erie all on their own?” The near “fingerprint-like" match of Cayuga Lake viral sequences with the Lake Erie virus along with the documented movements of round gobies in the canal system over several generations fails to point the finger at any accomplices. Let’s hope they do not infect too many of their fellow fish.

Dr. Martin Gilbert, Wildlife Health Cornell Carnivore Specialist

Bogor

Given their near supernatural reputation, it can be hard to distinguish the truth of the tiger from its mythology. Across much of their remaining range, their invisible presence invites embellishment from those lucky (or sometimes unlucky) enough to encounter them. But hidden within these tales might there be a thread of truth that hints at a new threat to their survival? ...continue reading

Dr. Martin Gilbert, Wildlife Health Cornell Carnivore Specialist

Russian Far East

Photo-by-Nikolai-Zinovyev for the Far Eastern Leopard Programme

The Far Eastern or Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis), already among rarest of the world’s big cats, has now been found to face another threat: infection with canine distemper virus (CDV). In spring 2015, a young female leopard was reported along a road that runs through the remaining habitat occupied by the last wild population, in the Russian Far East, along the border with China. ...continue reading