Conservation Corner – University of Illinois “Turtle Team”

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

Little Garter Snake with a Big Problem

Student Blog by Yvonne Wong, VM 21

In November, a juvenile Common Garter Snake presented to the Wildlife Medical Clinic. The little snake, just 30 grams or around 1 ounce, was found in a basement! It is not uncommon for reptiles to find shelter in residential homes during the winter months, but this choice is not always supported by the human inhabitants.

Patient on initial intake

Upon intake, multiple small skin lesions (abnormalities) were found along the snake’s body. Otherwise, the patient appeared to be healthy.

Based on the physical exam findings, clinic members were immediately concerned about one particular disease – Snake Fungal disease (SFD), an infection caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophidiiocola.

This relatively newly-discovered fungal pathogen (first seen in 2006) is highly contagious, and potentially fatal, to numerous snake species (including garter snakes).

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A Different Kind of Thanksgiving Bird!

On the day before Thanksgiving this year, a female mallard duck was brought to the Wildlife Medical Clinic after being hit by a car four days prior.

Physical examination found that the patient was not able to stay standing, although she was able to place her hindlimbs appropriately underneath her and move them when held in the air. No fractures were palpated, and the rest of the physical examination was generally unremarkable. Unfortunately, she appeared to have lost some waterproofing, which ducks and other aquatic birds normally need to keep their feathers dry. The patient was started on an anti-inflammatory medication and given swim time twice daily.

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