Featured Endangered Wildlife Species

by Lauren Kane (VM16)

Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi)

The Grand Cayman Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) is endemic to the island of Grand Cayman and is one of the longest-lived species of lizards. Fewer than 15 animals remained in the wild by 2003, and this wild population was predicted to become extinct within the first decade of the 21st century. The species’ decline is mainly being driven by predation by feral pets (cats and dogs) and indirectly by the destruction of their natural habitat as fruit farms are converted to pasture for cattle grazing. Since 2004, hundreds of captive-bred animals have been released into a preserve on Grand Cayman run by a partnership headed by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, in an attempt to save the species.

The Blue Iguana is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. In late 2012, the Blue Iguana Recovery Program estimated that the wild population had risen to approximately 750 individuals, and the IUCN subsequently downlisted the species from critically endangered to endangered. The Blue Iguana Recovery Program’s conservation strategy involves generating large numbers of genetically diverse hatchlings, head-startingthem for two years where their chance of survival in the wild is high, and using these animals to rebuild a series of wild sub-populations in protected, managed natural areas.This is accompanied by field research, nest site protection, and monitoring of the released animals. Restored sub-populations are already present in two non-contiguous areas—the Salina Reserve and the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.

For more information, please check out, http://www.blueiguana.ky/

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Working With Wildlife – My Top 5 Lessons Learned

by Stephanie Zec

Many hours volunteering at the Wildlife Medical Clinic (WMC) has made it my home, and my team of volunteers have become my vet-school family. As I approach the beginning of my fourth year, the transition to working in the teaching hospital will be bittersweet as I will have to leave the WMC. These are my top five wildlife lessons that I have learned from my time at the clinic.

1. Bigger is not badder.

Many of our volunteers become anxious when they are expected to work with an adult raccoon or an adult Great Horned Owl – the largest owl found in Illinois. In reality, they should be equally conscious of safety precautions when working with some smaller species. When we perform medical procedures on our resident birds, it is often times the kestrels that draw blood on our volunteers. Even smaller animals that do not appear intimidating can be dangerous. Despite taking the proper precautions, the most common bite injury in the Wildlife Medical Clinic is due to squirrels. So be careful if you find one!

2. Never underestimate the human-animal bond.

Kinkuna was our laughing Kookaburra resident bird. He was overweight, had a crippling foot malformation, and a laugh that could be heard from a mile away. Kinkuna was the first animal I ever tried to train using positive reinforcement to improve his quality of life. He quickly became my post-test companion, my lunch friend, and my ‘I just need to see an animal right now because school is making me stressed’ buddy. The clinic lost Kinkuna over a year ago, and it is still tough for me to walk into his old flight cage.

3. Animals are tough.

In the wild it is the weak that are preyed upon, so animals hide their injuries and illnesses.  My team once had a Merlin (a small falcon) that presented for a wing fracture. This animal was on its feet and would try to escape from us when we needed to catch it. Blood work revealed that this animal was so anemic and low on blood protein, it was miraculous that it was still alive. I have seen animals with fractures so ugly they make me cringe – yet that animal is barely showing any signs of pain.  I wish I had that level of pain tolerance.

4. Stress is a secret killer.

Did you ever notice that when you are stressed out, that is when the sickness comes? Physiologically, this is due to a little chemical known as cortisol. Stress causes an increase in cortisol secretion which then directly suppresses your immune system – always at the worst possible time.

For our wild animal patients, interaction with people is their worst nightmare. Now they are sick, stressed out in a foreign environment, and definitely do not want us handling them. I have seen doves die in people’s hands from being stressed and rabbits die within minutes after handling, due to no fault of the volunteer. If you ever find a wild animal, do not attempt to treat it. Please send it to a professional (like us). In the meantime, the best medication you can give a wild animal is putting it in a dark, quite area (like a shoe box for small birds and mammals) and leaving it alone until you can transfer it to someone with wildlife medical experience.

5. Communication is key!

My wildlife team that I am a co-leader of recently had the honor of treating a three year old female Bald Eagle. This poor creature had a wing fracture and a deep wound near the fracture site. This type of injury required intense medical care – which the eagle was less than thrilled about.  Eagles are nine pounds of anger with a six foot wing span. To restrain her and administer medication was a three person job. One person would blind her with a towel and grab her talons. Once she was safely pinned in her cage, the second person would come and “hood” her and hold her head so she couldn’t bite anyone.  The third person would then help maneuver the blanket to “burrito” the eagle, preventing her from unleashing her wings while we administered medications. If my team wasn’t communicating clearly and effectively with each other, someone could have been seriously injured. Instead, she was successfully sent to the rehabber and everyone was injury free.

 

 

 

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A Summer With The Owls

by Sarah Adams

“Just a pull a little tighter and you will complete that surgeon’s throw,” the manager explained as I completed my sutures for a laceration on a duck – yep that’s right, the first animal I learned how to suture on was a duck. Now as a vet student, I am very thankful for the experiences that I gained at the Wildlife Medical Clinic while spending summers there as an undergrad extern. The high volume caseload meant that there would always be a new challenge. Some of my most memorable cases include nursing two goslings back to health from an accident with fishing line, treating a box turtle that was hit by a car, an Eastern screech owl who needed eye drops, a fox kit with traumatic injuries, two orphaned bobcats from Louisiana, and a great horn owl with a fractured femur. Some of the more challenging cases include wrestling with a groundhog, an escape artist barn owl, and a notorious raccoon for treatments.

Some of my most interesting clinical experiences include giving intramuscular injections to baby red-eared sliders about the size of a quarter, tube feeding baby rabbits, bottle feeding fawns, and learning how to draw blood on birds. Learning how to do proper physical exams, write medical records, and record patient histories from the finders were valuable skills that will be useful no matter what area of veterinary medicine you explore.

From owls to turtles, rabbits to raccoons, I learned more than just clinical skills; I learned about public health, epidemiology, responding to medical emergencies, and educating the public about wildlife and the importance of conservation. Most importantly, working at the Wildlife Medical Clinic has taught me the power of collaboration in medicine. It was the knowledge and experience from the doctors and wildlife managers that helped make my experience truly unique. I learned that the knowledge that one doctor has can be different from another, and when that knowledge is combined the best treatment plan can be achieved. As of right now the Wildlife Medical Clinic has sparked my interest in emergency medicine; I look forward to seeing where else it takes me through my career in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

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Building a Relationship With Captive Wildlife

by Malke Weil

As resident coordinator, one of my jobs is to train our resident birds to make their interactions with us safe, stress free, and even enjoyable. Our newest member of the resident team is Thistle. She is an American kestrel who came into the clinic in the summer of 2012, with an injury of her left eye. She recovered, but lost the eye, and a one eyed kestrel cannot hunt adequately in the wild. As a patient, she was never afraid of us, she would rush to the front of her cage in anticipation of food, so it was decided that she was a good candidate for the resident program: non-releasable, and not afraid of people.

Once she joined the team, it was time to train her. All our birds are trained to enter a crate, step up on our gloves, and tolerate a basic physical exam, so we can work with them safely and without stress. We train with positive reinforcement, so our first step was finding her reward. She is very food motivated, so that was decided. We had to get her comfortable with taking food from us, so when we rewarded her, she would take it. We started by giving her food and staying nearby while she ate it. Wild animals feel vulnerable when eating, because they are not fully focused on their surroundings. So eating in front of you implies a trust. The next step was putting food closer to us so she would have to come closer to get it, and finally we had her come to our glove and take the food from us directly. She is an eager learner, so this step did not take long at all.

Then we got her comfortable going into her crate, that way, anytime we needed to transport her, she would comfortably comply. We fed her in her crate, and as she went it we said “crate”. Then we came up with a crate command, and every time she follows it, she gets a treat through the holes in the crate. Next step was to get her comfortable sitting on glove. We held food in our gloves and waited for her to come get it. We would hold onto the food so she would have to stay until it was finished. And sometimes she would stay long after she finished the meal. Then we knew she had reached that comfort level. Once she was coming to sit on the glove with or without food, we started jessing her. Jesses are ropes that go through anklets on their feet, so we can take them for walks without the danger of them flying away and injuring themselves. So to get her comfortable with that, we’d have a treat in the glove, and when she was distracted eating it, we slipped the jesses through her anklets. After a few times, she got used to that and allowed us to do it without the food distraction.

Once she had all those behaviors down, she could be a full time part of the resident team. She is a superstar at PR events, for any of you who have seen her, she is cooperative, and enjoys the attention she gets. She loves going on walks, stretching her wings out to feel the wind go through her, and more than anything, she loves one on one attention with our volunteers. She is a smart bird and is always eager to learn. The only time we have problems with her is when we are not working with her often enough. I feel so blessed that I got to be a part of her training team, and it makes me happy that although we could not give her back her old life in the wild, we were able to give her a new one that is full of happiness and enrichment.

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