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.
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
“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.
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
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
“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
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
participants immobilize a Cape buffalo for disease testing.
Envirovet 2000 represented the sixth Envirovet program Dr. Beasley has
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
“We were always very active, visiting new sites and investigating the
conditions,” says Carlson.
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
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
Two-week course takes students to
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.
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