A Walk on the Wild Side

Fourth year veterinary students expand their training in wildlife veterinary medicine.

On October 4th, 2016 a group of six, fourth year veterinary students at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) kicked off a two-week wildlife field medicine rotation with a day of post mortem exams on wildlife in beautiful Banff National Park in Alberta. The post mortem exams, which are the equivalent of an autopsy in human medicine, were a great opportunity for the students to learn about local wildlife and the value of conducting wildlife disease surveillance in the province.

The wildlife rotation has been in existence since UCVM’s 1st class of 4th year students in 2011/12. The course is currently organized by Dr. Owen Slater from the Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, UCVM, who is also an associate of the CWHC in Alberta. The federal parks staff were kind enough to host the day at their post mortem station near the town site of Banff. Dr. Bryan Macbeth, a veterinarian with Parks Canada, helped facilitate the day, and shared his knowledge on wildlife health. Dr. Dayna Goldsmith, a past graduate of the UCVM (class of 2013) and a recent American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) board certified pathologist (2016), was the chief pathologist for the day. Collin Letain, wildlife health technician for CWHC Alberta helped to educate the students on the CWHC’s role in wildlife health, collected post-mortem reports for CWHC diagnostic caseload, and helped the students become familiar with basic wildlife anatomy.

Throughout the day in the necropsy lab at Banff, students got experience with a range of wildlife from canids to raptors and black bears to bighorn sheep. A total of 14 animals were examined, including a gray wolf, two coyotes, a red fox, bighorn sheep, and a pair of black bears. Following a picnic lunch overlooking Vermillion Lakes, the famed Tunnel Mountain and a series of peaks comprising Mt. Rundle, the afternoons attention was focused on wildlife of the avian species. Students sorted through a mess of feathers examining a raven, a pair of hawks, three different species of owls and a black-billed magpie.

Cause of death for majority of the cases was, unfortunately, trauma resulting from collisions with motor vehicles. Mortalities from motor vehicle collisions are often saved for hands on labs and demonstrations with students as these cases don’t require immediate diagnoses. Such practices are beneficial for students to learn normal anatomical structure and there is always the chance that interesting incidental findings may occur. Such a finding for the day was that a red fox found to have died of trauma was also infected with Oslerus osleri. This is a species of metastrongyle nematode found in wild canids. It is transmitted among hosts through saliva and feces and has been found in wolves in Banff as well. In recent years, O. osleri has been isolated from at least one domestic dog in Alberta. Findings like these emphasize the importance of wildlife health surveillance in order to understand the diversity of pathogens that may transmit between wildlife and domestic animals.

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