Two Weeks as a Fourth Year UCVM Student
The University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) fourth year program uses a distributed veterinary learning community model. With this model, the students have the opportunity to spend time with, and learn from veterinarians practicing in multiple different fields of veterinary medicine. For the past two weeks, I have been on rotation in Nanaimo with the B.C. Wildlife Health Program.
Wildlife medicine differs from companion animal medicine in that it is geared more towards a population approach as opposed to caring for each individual animal. Population medicine incorporates a One Health approach, which considers animal, environmental and pathogen factors in disease transmission. Wildlife veterinarians spend much of their time anticipating disease outbreaks before they happen. If successful, this allows proper control measures to be implemented to prevent a disease outbreak from occurring. For example, recent evidence suggests that the use of camelids as pack animals in the backcountry poses a risk for wild species inhabiting these areas. Therefore, we performed nasal swabs on llamas to identify any diseases that may be transmitted to wild ungulates. Data from the samples will allow us to gain a better understanding of the risk of using camelids as pack animals.
Staying two steps ahead of diseases, so to speak, is not without its challenges. Diseases often have a sub-clinical phase (animals will not show any symptoms) followed by a clinical phase. With infectious diseases, this means that by the time symptoms are noticed in one individual, multiple other animals in the herd are likely already infected. Prey species are also very good at concealing illnesses, as predators target the weak. As a result, when clinical signs are noted, these animals are often in the advanced stages of disease, and in some cases animals may simply be found dead and never have exhibited obvious clinical signs at all. Together, these factors make diagnosis and prevention of disease difficult. Necropsies on all deceased animals are performed to identify if infectious causes are present and whether additional steps must be taken to ensure the health of the rest of the animals (monitoring, sampling, etc.).
Apart from spending time in the necropsy lab and collecting samples from llamas, I spent time researching prevalent and emerging wildlife diseases, such as chronic wasting disease in ungulates, and putting together educational material for the public. Education, along with many other things, is part of the job description for a wildlife veterinarian. With city and roadway expansion into wildlife territory, as well as, backcountry activities, interaction between humans and wildlife is inevitable. Therefore, it is important for the public to be aware of relevant diseases affecting the wildlife around them so that they too can do their part to ensure the utmost health of the wildlife that share our backyards.
I would like to thank Dr. Helen Schwantje and Cait Nelson for inviting me to join them for this rotation and introducing me to the field of wildlife medicine.