By: Kathleen Rafferty, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021
“Saving the world, one box turtle at a time” – it’s a well-known phrase for the University of Illinois Wildlife Epidemiology Lab. The Lab conducts the largest Eastern box turtle health assessment and research project in the world, all with the help of John Rucker’s seven Boykin spaniels that love to sniff out and retrieve turtles. Dr. Matt Allender, zoo veterinarian and head of the Wildlife Epidemiology Lab, met John 12 years ago when he learned about his dogs’ special talent – and asked if he could help him accomplish something huge.
Illinois veterinary students have the unique opportunity to volunteer for the Lab’s aptly named “Turtle Team” during weeks throughout the summer. The mornings begin early with tent and lab station set up and preparing for sample collection. When John’s trailer arrives, you can hear the dogs whine in excitement, knowing they are about to do their favorite job. Mr. Rucker attributes this excitement to the turtle dogs being the “super dogs” of the litter – “that’s why they have this degree of excitement, passion, and drive. It plays out in the field when you have a low density of turtles – they have to have that relentless drive.” Continue reading