Two-week course takes students to South Africa

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A Calling in the Wild: Program Points Students to Career Paths in Conservation
by Jonas Siegel

In the constantly changing natural world, human beings can make a difference. 

LionBecause he believes this, Dr. Val Beasley, professor of toxicology in veterinary biosciences, not only conducts research into the effects of natural and manmade environmental contaminants on amphibians, flamingos, and marine mammals, but he also sees to it that new generations of veterinary scientists find ways to make positive contributions to pressing ecological issues.

The Envirovet Summer Institute is an effective way for those students to cultivate the necessary background and to develop opportunities.

Envirovet is designed to connect professionals experienced in policy, economic, environmental, and medical issues with students who want to work in non-traditional veterinary roles, such as wildlife and habitat conservation. 

“Many veterinary students come to the College with an interest in wildlife, but the traditional program offers limited opportunities for working in that capacity. Envirovet extends veterinary roles to concerns regarding the long-term health, successful reproduction, and ecological setting necessary for enhancing genuine sustainability,” says Dr. Beasley.

Envirovet gives veterinary students multiple pathways to apply what they learn in veterinary school to the larger realm of ecosystem health. The course provides students with broad-based knowledge in such areas as ecology, population biology, and toxicology so that they are well-prepared to participate in finding solutions to the world’s many ecosystem health crises.

“We think people want to live in a bio-diverse world. Veterinarians can be among those who help society make informed decisions to achieve this balance,” says Dr. Beasley.

GiraffeEnvirovet Summer Institute 2000 was subtitled “An Intensive Shortcourse in Terrestrial Wildlife and Ecosystem Health in a Developed Country and an International Development Context.” As the name suggests, the program crams a lot in. The 25 participants were in session 10 hours a day, nearly every day of the 5-week program. 

“It is an intense schedule, but it is a big-picture course,” Dr. Beasley notes. 

This year, the first two weeks of the program were spent at the White Oak Conservation Center, near Jacksonville, Fla. Veterinary experts working in conservation arenas around the country and world passed their knowledge to the new generation of ecosystem health veterinarians. 

“I felt a lot of camaraderie among the students and the faculty at White Oak,” says Carrie Gustavson, a third-year veterinary student at the College who participated. “There was a definite sense that the people already in the field were rooting for you, that they were really excited to see a group of young, motivated veterinarians and students out there eager to get involved.” 

“We try to create a retreat-like environment,” says Dr. Beasley, “so students get to interact with faculty inside and outside the normal instructional setting.” Some students end up securing jobs and research opportunities through contacts they make with these professionals. 

After a one-week break, the program moved to Kenya, where participants spent three weeks focusing on three major ecosystems: The Rift Valley alkaline lakes, the greater Meru ecosystem, and the Maasai Mara/Serengeti ecosystem. Each area in Kenya faces a unique set of problems as well as concerns related to the larger African realm, where the problems of drought, famine, and war are routine. 

“In Africa, you can’t really solve the problems of the wildlife without also considering human issues and needs,” says Gustavson. “Conservation can’t be done in a bubble. The challenge to Kenya is to develop the land and the country in a way that allows people, wildlife, and agriculture to coexist.” 

Through the program, students participated in real-life ecosystem health issues, formed contacts and alliances with other scientists, and learned to work with interdisciplinary teams to develop new ways of addressing the problems that threaten the biological uniqueness of both American and Kenyan ecosystems.

Envirovet participants immobilize a Cape buffalo for disease testing.Envirovet participants immobilize a Cape buffalo for disease testing.

Envirovet 2000 represented the sixth Envirovet program Dr. Beasley has organized.

Veterinary student Kim Carlson says that the most beneficial part of Envirovet 1998 was the daily contact with professionals who had a variety of backgrounds. In that Aquatic Envirovet program, Carlson participated in a comparison of aquatic life in a polluted harbor and on a pristine island. 

“We were always very active, visiting new sites and investigating the conditions,” says Carlson.

Dr. Scott Cintro and assistants work on zebraDr. Scott Cintro (center) and assistants at White Oak Conservation Center in Florida demonstrate how to conduct a physical examination for transport of a zebra.

One goal of all the Envirovet programs is to get students to see beyond the traditional environmental worries of food and crop contamination from pollutants, the hot topics when Dr. Beasley received his DVM in 1972 from Purdue University. Instead, the programs focus students’ attention on ecosystems and re-establishing “margins of safety for wildlife populations,” which will rely on broader gains in bio-diversity and more astute environmental management by those in agriculture, industry, and regional development. 

“In Kenya, the motivation to conserve the diverse wild lands and wildlife is extraordinary, considering the other pressures of life. Many Africans realize that the value of conservation goes far beyond aesthetics or tourist dollars. It is important worldwide, and Africa plays a major role,” says Gustavson.

BirdEnvirovet 2000 attracted participants from Brazil, Colombia, England, Germany, Israel, Kenya, Uganda, and every region of the United States. The program is just part of the College’s toxicology group’s developing effort to broaden the range of opportunities available to veterinary students. Dr. Petra Volmer was recently hired to reactivate the College toxicology residency program as part of this effort.

“It is a priority for us to serve the students,” says Dr. Beasley, “and give them the best possible opportunity to find their place in the constantly changing world.”

Two-week course takes students to South Africa

Several Illinois veterinary students, including Dave Brdecka, Lara Helwig, Angie LeVally, Mary Mansfield (in photo), and Amy Waggoner, attended the Wildlife Veterinary Medicine Course in South Africa last summer. 

Mary Mansfield with elephantDr. Cobus Raath, a former veterinarian at South Africa’s Kruger National Park for 9 years, shared his expertise on topics such as immobilization principles and equipment, pharmacological preparations for chemical capture, infectious diseases, and the capture and care of species from rhino to lion to giraffe. 

Students accompanied Dr. Raath on all medical calls received during the two-week course. They tested Cape buffalo for TB and other diseases, treated an injured rhino and transported her and her calf to a facility for further care, provided ear tags for wildebeest on a private game ranch, and performed a necropsy on a young rhino. Information was presented on different veterinary paths that contribute to conservation and care of wildlife.

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