When I pictured my academic path, I rarely, if ever, thought about turtles. When I tell people I am a vet student, the most common response is: “Aw, you must really like dogs and cats.” And, of course, like most veterinary students (and people in general), I love our fluffy friends. But what about the turtles? Some people’s love for turtles begins with a 3-day trip to Nachusa, Illinois. Mine definitely did.
The Nachusa grassland is a prairie restoration site about two hours west of Chicago. The site is known for its decades-long habitat restoration project and its residing bison herds. And while seeing bison for the first time in my life was breathtaking, being able to find 54 (!) turtles in three days was an unforgettable thrill. I let my naivete get the best of me and got excited about every piece of information the rest of the team provided. I learned so much about the role of the ornate box turtles as the ecosystem’s health status indicators.
Interestingly, many of the turtles were marked, meaning they were sampled in the past, and some were juveniles (and unmarked). Since this was my first field season, I did not fully understand the importance of these findings. After that, John Rucker, the pack leader of the turtle dogs, explained that finding marked adults and juveniles means that the population is relatively stable and that they actively reproduce. I felt the goosebumps down my spine as he said that. The conservation efforts made by the Nature Conservancy and Dr. Allender’s teams over the years have proven fruitful. The turtles shed a speck of hope for future conservation efforts worldwide. At this moment, my passion for veterinary medicine turned into a deep-seated love for One Health. I can’t wait to find out what the next week holds and, more importantly, share it with you!