I believe in science, I believe in truth. Hello, I’m Jon Rossi. I’m a touring drummer with the love for all things. Again, when I’m on the road, I spend as much time as possible. Visiting zoos, aquariums, rescues, and rehab facilities. Now I want to share those places with you. I’ll be talking to keepers, vets, conservationists, volunteers, anyone who is as passionate about animals as I am joined on my Rossifari.
Hi. Hello. Hey there. Welcome back to the podcasts that finally got a zoo vet as a guest, the Rossifari podcast. All right y’all, this episode is going to be different than anything you’ve heard on the podcast before. I am so excited to bring you this one. But of course, before I tell you why, uh, I’m going to tell you to hop online and make sure that you have hit subscribe on whatever podcast app you’re listening to this on, and also make sure you’re following along at Rossifari on Facebook and Instagram and @rossifaripod on TikTok to, uh, have all the fun with all the pictures and videos and cool stuff that we do here.
Also remember you can support the podcast if you’d like to www.patrion.com/rossifari. All right. Now, one of the craziest things I’ve learned over the last few years, both from Zoe being in vet school, and for me doing the podcast is just how little specific medical information we have about many of the species in captivity.
Oftentimes that’s our forced to extrapolate information from the more commonly researched species, such as dogs, cats, rodents, turtles, and horses, and then do their best to apply that information to the various species that you see in captivity. But the organization I’m going to introduce today is here to change all that by funding as many studies into individual species as possible.
I’m talking of course about the Wild Animal Health Fund. Now I’m going to let my guests explain more about what the Wild Animal Health Fund does, but I will tell you that it is so important that the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians known as the AAZV covers all the overhead of the organization.
So that 100% of the donations given to the Wild Animal Health Fund are used to fund studies into the incredible species that need our help. Now you may have noticed that I mentioned that I have guests today. That’s right. I have not one but two guests on the podcast. First you’ll hear from Dr. Vicki Clyde.
Vicky is a retired zoo veterinarian who is heavily involved with the Wild Animal Health Fund. She spent much of her career at the Milwaukee County Zoo and has some amazing stories and insight both from her time as a zoo vet and as a person who has been able to be a part of studies funded by the Wild Animal Health Fund, as well as benefiting from the knowledge gained through other studies funded by this incredible organization.
My second guest is Adine Nicholson. Adine is the Director of Development for the AAZV and oversees fundraising and marketing for the Wild Animal Health Fund. So yeah, we are really hitting this from every angle and that’s because. Well, look, this one matters. Y’all if you are listening and you’re involved in a zoo in any capacity, or if you know a veterinarian at a zoo or a one involved in wildlife rehab, for instance, this is the episode to share with them.
Not just because I like getting more downloads. I, I do like getting more downloads, not going to lie, but because the Wild Animal Health Fund is doing so much to advance the medical knowledge we have for all species. It really is incredible. The number of specific species, the Wild Animal Health Fund is helping provide funding for already.
You’re only going to hear a few of the stories in the episode, but there is a massive list on their website, including African elephants, pangolin, American buffaloes, Amazon parrots, kestrels bats, bearded dragons, the flapper skate, seals, golden frogs, tons of different sea turtles. Also tree kangaroos, which is another favorite species of mine that you’re going to be learning more about soon. I can go on and on: hawk, sea lion, sea otters, sloths, you name it. We’re even talking wart hogs and Wardee pigs here. Y’all okay. Obviously that was a very, very partial list. The full list is on their website and it’s constantly expanding. So yeah, this one matters.
All right. I am excited for y’all to learn more about the wild animal health fund. So without further ado, here is my interview with Adine Nicholson and Dr. Vicki Clyde.
All right. So, uh, hello everybody. I’m looking forward to this conversation today. Uh, why don’t you both take a moment to introduce yourselves?
My name is Vicki Clyde. I am a veterinarian for many, many years, uh, and I’ve been a zoo veterinarian working at the Milwaukee County zoo until recently.
And, uh, how, how about our other special guests?
My name is Adine Nicholson. I’m the Director of Development for the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. And we have a wonderful program that’s called the Wild Animal Health Fund, which I oversee fundraising and marketing activities for as well.
I’m excited to have you guys on here to tell us all about the Wild Animal Health Fund. Um, but first tell me about the, the parent organization that you work for.
Sure. We’re a professional organization of zoo and wildlife veterinarians, even though our name has American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, we have quite a few members who are all over the world.
Uh, probably about 200 of our members are from other countries outside the US um, we probably have about 1300 members right now, and they work in all different fields, not only so zoological parks, wildlife, uh, sanctuaries institutions, academia, CDC, government, uh, corporations, all over.
Very cool. And then obviously, uh, Vicki, I assume that you have been a member of this group for a minute now.
Sure. I joined the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians when I was a third year veterinary student and have been a member continuously. It is the main organization that provides scientific training in this area. They have an annual conference each year, which is key to meeting other people in the field, making those relationships that are gonna sustain you through your career so that whenever there’s a new problem and in Zoo Medicine you can, as you can imagine, we come up with different types of problems all the time. You know, who you can pick up the phone and call to help you with any given problem. Um, the AAZV also puts out the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, which is the premier publication in, in Zoo Medicine.
It’s also a sponsored by the EAZW, the European Association of zoo and wildlife. Veterinarians are counterparts in Europe. And, uh, we have a lot of international manuscripts as well as ones from here in America. So that is kind of the go-to journal that we all read to keep current with what’s happening in zoo medicine. And it’s a field that changes rapidly all the time.
That’s awesome. And we’re definitely going to talk a little bit about, uh, how and how the Wild Animal Health Fund is helping that. Um, but I also need to, to point out that the AAZV membership makes a great gift to your girlfriend if she is in vet school in her third year, go, John go, John. That was very exciting. Zoe was very excited when I, when I got her that last year. And, uh, and as a proud member and it’s, it’s cool to, uh, to know that, um, you know, she’s part of such an awesome organization and can help so much. And I’m just going to take a moment to say to my listeners y’all know that that Zoe is on her way to becoming a zoo vet.
And I have to tell you when, uh, when I was contacted about doing this interview, Zoe got really excited. Like we’re talking, there was a slight, slight squeal that happened, slight squeal. And, um, so I’m just, I’m excited to be bringing some zoo vet knowledge to the forefront here and to talk about all of this and to be representing such an amazing community.
So, uh, thank you guys for being here. All right. So let’s get into this a little bit. Tell me what the Wild Animal Health Fund is in like super layman’s terms.
It is a funding resource. For scientists to expand and advance through a logical medicine because of the huge lack of knowledge and information out there on species, we are just coming in contact with whether closely or very far.
Okay, cool. And Vicki, can you explain to my listeners why it is or how much knowledge we w why we need this, or how much knowledge we do or don’t have about species and maybe why that is.
Well, as you can imagine in veterinary school, we get trained mostly in domestic animals, horses, and cows, little bit of goat and sheep, um, dog and cat, maybe a chicken, if we’re lucky. So that’s where most of the veterinary knowledge lies. And as a zoo veterinarian, I use that information all the time to extrapolate to the animals that I work with. So as a Taper, most like a horse, do I use horse medicine to try to figure out what’s going on with this animal? And so as a zoo veterinarian or a wildlife veterinarian, we deal in thousands of different species of which there may be some information on their natural history, but not as much information as known about their, um, physiology and especially their disease states or how to heal them. And zoo veterinarians for a long time, as well as zoo vets in our veterinary schools, our academic zoo vets have been trying to do practical or clinical based research to answer questions like, can I do a blood transfusion in a bird safely, or what dose of drug can I give to this species of animal and get a therapeutic level? So we’ve been doing it kind of little by little on ourselves. And I had the fortune to be the treasurer for the AAZV when they had their first strategic planning meeting. One of the things that came out from all the vets at that point meeting was we need to do a better job funding.
The research that answers the questions we need to take care of our animals, because right now in the us, there isn’t much funding for animal research and there’s almost no funding for wildlife and managed care. And so the AAZV made it a real priority to start saying we will fund the projects that our zoo members and wildlife members think are most important. And out of that then grew the Wild Animal Health Fund so that we can focus dollars on critical questions so that our animals, whether they’re in the wild or in captivity are healthier and hopefully happier. You know, it’s really aimed at animal welfare, animal health and ecosystem health as well.
I love that. Um, would you say that the reason that there isn’t a lot of this research is just because the animals aren’t really there outside of a zoological facility that much like people aren’t that aware of, like you said, a Taper or like our Red Panda, we don’t need to, you’re never going to create a food or a medicine that’s going to be available at PetSmart for a Red Panda.
So there’s just no reason, like capitalist reason to research Red Panda is more, or is there, there are different reasoning behind it?
I think that’s part of it, but there’s more research funding was cut severely in the United States, probably about 40 years ago. And it even became harder for, for generic scientists to get grants. Research has also become very expensive because of the equipment that’s needed. And I think in general, humans are very human centric. So they want to do research that promotes their life. And we are so thrilled to know people like you and like the donors to know Wild Animal Health Fund that believe our lives are enriched by saving the species and this incredible diversity of animals that our earth has been blessed with. And so I think it’s just that not everybody thinks outside their own primary needs.
That absolutely makes sense. I I’ve always loved the saying that conservation cannot happen when when there’s hunger present and, you know, people are going to worry about themselves first. So that does make a lot of sense, but I am really grateful for you guys and the fact that you are trying to increase this knowledge.
So, um, talk me through, you know, what, a little bit more about what the Wild Animal Health Fund does in, in how they help out with this research. The practical side of it is that we put a call out to researchers and scientists, um, to submit project proposals, um, of the different dilemmas that they’re either coming contact with in a conservation project that they might be working on, or it might be an animal that has come to their attention that has a critical need, something like that. So projects are submitted to our research grant committee, comprised of nine specialists who rotate on and off of the committee. The applications are reviewed this past January. We took in 51 applications. So the committee right now is reviewing the proposals and we have a set of guidelines and criteria. Each proposal is reviewed and ranked, and then the top ranking proposals are made of the committee makes the recommendation to our executive committee that does the official approving of that next year’s portfolio of research grants. So this coming portfolio, we’ve allocated $160,000. For the research grants.
Now each research grant has, um, like it’s submitted proposal up to a request of no more than $15,000 for an 18 month time period. And that usually to some people they might say, well, I thought research was expensive. Well, research is expensive, but when we need to find baseline health parameters for such species that have critical needs, you may be can solve that with, let’s say 3,500 instead of the 15,000. So we give the researchers, uh, that area for them to propose the amount that they need to get the accomplishment. Then we have other projects that are, need more research dollars, then that 15,000. And in that proposal, they will describe matching proposals that, so it might be, they need some special radiology equipment and that would be the cost of their institution that would provide that cost. And then we begin the funding of the first project, the first draw of the project, and they’ve got 18 months to complete it. Some are completed more, um, with COVID happening last year and I love the labs being closed. We extended some end dates further out to accommodate that current issue that was going on.
It makes a lot of sense. I’m curious. Could, could one of you speak to just for my listeners who, um, you know, go to zoos, but don’t have a ton of knowledge of what’s going on. Could you speak to or maybe name a couple of species that we just don’t have really good baseline health knowledge on that might surprise them, like things that you go to a zoo and you see, and you probably think are super well-researched and stuff, but really aren’t.
Yeah. Well, there’s been several initiatives to try to get baseline health data on animals. One of those is the Zoologic Information Management System. So that is our electronic medical records. If you guys ever go to your doctor and you pull your hair out, cause the nurse or the doctor keeps typing into the computer, well, we have one of those too. And I jokingly used to say when I was training some people that the equipment we use most is the computer but every time a zoo veterinarian, anywhere in the world who belongs to the program and puts information in about their animal that all gets put in a data bank. And so there you can go and see, well, what is the normal liver enzyme, um, level for a Red Panda.
And sometimes you go in and you’re happy. You see that there’s maybe data from. 300 readings of 150 animals. And you think that’s a pretty robust, but there’s other times you go into that database and they’re giving you normals based on five animals. It’s hard to be clear right off the bat. Um, but a lot of the birds that are kept in captivity, we don’t know a lot about, cause there hasn’t been a lot of study.
Most of the big mammals, the key, what we call the charismatic megavertebrates are the ones everybody comes to the zoo. For most of those, we have the base data worked out. I mean, we know what their white blood cell count should be. We know what their kidney values should look like, but what we may not know is what is a safe amount of a drug to give them if they’re sick. And so that’s where we do a lot of extrapolation. So every year in the list of projects that the Wild Animal Health Fund sees, you’ll almost always see one pharmacokinetic study. And even for veterinarians, our eyeballs roll, when you say pharmacokinetic, but what it is is somebody finds some normal, healthy animals who are willing to give this drug to their animals and then draw blood afterwards to see how long does it persist in the body. How is it metabolized? What dose reaches therapeutic concentrations. Um, and those studies are difficult and expensive to get the blood tested for the drug level, but they have helped us incredibly to know gee and elephants. We might need to give more of this type of a pain reliever in order to relieve pain of arthritis or something.
But another one we were giving way too frequently. It should be every other day rather than daily. And so those sorts of studies help us meet the first part of our oath, which is do no harm. And that’s the problem treating zoo animals. If you don’t know the answers, you’ve make your best guess. And we feel so much happier when we are making decisions based on knowledge, not basing decisions based on, well, this is a desert species so at kidney probably works this way. So I probably should. And then you have all these assumptions pack together.
Yeah. Wow. That makes a lot of sense. Adine, did you have something to add to that?
I was going to add that we have funded a few projects, um, on that. Um, but two species specific. One is seabirds in Brazil. So sea birds are good environmental indicators for what harm pollution and other things are doing to our shores and having norms on the seaboards and then going back and circling back to different seasons, different timing of the seabirds. And then you can evaluate their health based on everything else.
The other unique animal, that’s probably not in zoos, but we see them on the shore or horseshoe crabs. And we had a study in I guess 2015 that, uh, studied the health parameters, um, getting some baseline blood analysis on horseshoe crabs. So that in the event that horseshoe crabs started becoming ill or going down in population size, we’ve got health information now on that, which we did not before Jon, one of your favorite species, the red Panda.
They recently funded a study on the Red Panda, acute mortality syndrome. Very they’re normally very healthy animals, but occasionally they die quickly and there’s some belief that that could be due to, um, disfunctioning of their adrenal system. And so the study is proposing to look at what is the normal adrenal function and how do we measure that in red pandas to try to prevent this mortality syndrome.
And, and that is such a great example. And, um, even before I had heard of the Wild Animal Health Fund. You know, I’m connected to a ton of zoos. I am definitely connected to all of their red pandas and a bunch of, uh, like you said, younger pandas were, were dying unexpectedly and, and the necropsies were coming back relatively inconclusive and it was breaking my heart, seeing this happen. And it was so amazing to me, um, to see the recent post talking about that, that potential funding and everything, because I, yeah, I was literally, I’ve had many days of heartbreak waking up to a tweet from a zoo saying that unfortunately, a Panda that I love had passed away unexpectedly way younger than expected.
And now I’m talking to people who are going to help fund solving that problem. And it’s, it’s really cool. And it’s, it makes me really excited to know that there are groups like this out there, um, because I hate those mornings when I wake up to those tweets. So, uh, thank you guys for that.
You can imagine if you were to go to John Q public and say, we need money to study the adrenal gland in red pandas, they would say, are you crazy? We need to study COVID or we need to study AIDS, or we need to study cancer. And so that’s why it is you. And I know. And so to so many of our listeners that these things are really important and it’s not, it doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of dollars to answer these questions, but there would be nowhere else for that clinician or researcher to turn except to the wild animal health fund to get, you know, that $10,000 to study.
This totally makes sense. And I’m curious, um, so far we’ve only talked about this, uh, kind of in terms of zoos and captivity. I’m assuming that this, uh, can overlap with animals outside of captivity. So, um, can you speak to that a little bit? Yeah. There’s a recent project that’s going on.
No, no. If, you know, in Africa there is Tuberculosis in some of the wild hoofstock and unfortunately that overflows into the predators, the lions and the cheetahs. So those are the project that’s going on to try to figure out better ways to identify which of those predators are effected by tuberculosis. Um, there was another one that I thought was amazing. It’s looking at an ochre sea star, which is like a starfish. And they’re looking at how can we characterize how the physiology of this animal will change with climactic stressors? So if the water gets too warm and the water gets too cold, or the pH changes, how can we tell whether these animals are adapting or not adapting to those changes?
And so that’s what I love about the Wild Animal Health Fund is it is not limited in its scope. It does wild animals. It does captive animals. It does wildlife and rehabilitation. It does animals on the bottom of the ocean floor and its breadth is amazing. I love that, especially with how interconnected everything is, you know, that’s, that’s so cool to hear.
Um, so, you know, we’ve talked a lot, uh, so far about the, the projects that are upcoming and that are currently being researched and all that cool stuff. What I would love to share with my listeners is a tale of few tales of a completed project. And, um, I had really loved to go kind of deep if you could, and tell me, you know, about a project that has, has been successful and how it got started, how you found out about the, the issue and then the impact that it’s had on the, the animal in question.
Well, the one I would be most comfortable talking about is one that theoretically I was listed as the private or the principal investigator on, and that is looking at, um, B type natriuretic proteins, or BNPs. In gorillas looking at that in terms of heart failure. So natriuretic refers to sodium loads in the body, and this is a hormone, a BNP, and it’s its metabolites NT pro BNT that can measure whether animals in congestive heart failure.
And I’ve been involved in the bonobo heart project for years, as well as the great ape heart project. And luckily we had a resident come through the zoo, Taylor Yaw. Who’s now the vet at the Minnesota zoo. And he wanted to do this study looking at can we find easier ways to measure this hormone in gorillas as a way to figure out who is at risk for heart disease.
So normally in order to get blood out of most gorillas, you have to put them under anesthesia. And you can understand that most people don’t like putting their drills under anesthesia, if they don’t have to. And they certainly don’t like to do it if they have heart disease. So what Taylor wanted to do was compare blood that was taken the conventional way by putting a syringe and needle in a vein versus what we call capillary blood. So if you’ve ever done a blood donation, they prick your finger and take a little blood to test whether your iron level is good. He wanted to see if we could come up with a capillary, a way to collect clapper, capillary blood out of gorillas, and also then to look at urine because as any zookeeper will tell you, there’s lots of feces and there’s lots of urine that they can give you very easily. Well, if we could look at biomarkers that way we wouldn’t have to anesthetize the animal. So Taylor was really the head researcher of the project, but because he was a resident, I had to have my name on it. So I handled the money and the paperwork, but he contacted. 10 to 15 zoos, not all of them participated, but the big gorilla holders and most of them will schedule once a year or once every three years where they do anesthetize the gorillas and they do their health exams.
So he would, after getting the right permission, get in the car, drive to those zoos and help with the collection. So he’d worked at the Milwaukee count Zoo is initially what we did is we collected urine from a bunch of gorillas and this had to be done at the Mayo clinic research facility. They tested to make sure that they didn’t find any BNP or NTB and pee in the urine, which is the marker we were looking at.
And then they spiked it with known amounts of this hormone, and then they tested it on their machines to make sure the machine that normally tests it in blood could also pick it up in urine. So that first phase we had to pay for a research lab to run, and that’s called, you know, it’s, uh, a verification of the methodology and it was great that the machine and the test could identify BNP in urine.And then Taylor had to go down to our gorillas. And one of the things gorillas are good at doing are sticking toes and fingers through the front mesh of their enclosure. Cause they like to interact with their caregivers. And so he developed a little tourniquet. You could put around a toe and we had to find a lancet that was long enough because a lot of the human lancets go through our skin, but gorillas have really thick skin. So he used a larger lancet and then had to find a way to suck up the blood that came on the skin and gorillas clot really fast. So there are some automated blood collection systems. Uh, they use in infants in human infants, but they’re really, really expensive and getting a zoo to buy a really, really expensive piece of equipment is hard.
Well, there’s a little product that helps you suck blackheads out of your skin that has a gentle suction and it fit on the blood collection tube. So they use this blackhead collector, gentle suction, which, and it was able to be purchased at a very reasonable cost, um, to collect that blood. And so then on all the gorillas, when they had their annual exams due and they were getting blood anyway, they compared this hormone in the regular blood, in the capillary blood and in the urine. Uh, to see if it was a good way to predict heart failure or congestion. And they certainly found that the capillary blood and the regular blood work just the same, they found low levels in the urine. But then we had part two of the project very sadly, a couple of years ago, we had an, an older female gorilla that we knew had heart disease.
And we knew she had congestive heart failure. And over the time that we treated her, we collected urine samples and those were all frozen in our bio bank. And I don’t know, do all your listeners know that every time we immobilize an animal, anytime we collect blood, anytime we get a sample, we freeze a little bit of it back in those ultra low freezers, the ones that they have to put the Pfizer vaccine in and so most sues have this biobank, which takes a lot of energy and a lot of time, but can be so critical when you want to answer a question. So we took our gorillas urine samples out, sent them off to the lab. And what we found is when we measured, when we looked at the results of the BNP in her urine, every time it was high, there was a clinical note for that animal, because this was done retrospectively saying, she’s lethargic, she’s sick.
She’s put on weight. We think she’s not doing well. And then we would increase her diuretic drug and she would start acting better. And then we would see in her urine, the levels coming down. So it was really successful in showing that, that we can measure. BNP or NT pro BNP in the blood. We can do it by having the animals just volunteer like a little finger prick, or we can do it by collecting urine. And imagine if you have an animal, a gorilla that you know has heart disease, and you don’t know if you’re giving it enough medication, you can see this marker going up in the urine and you know, you need to increase the diuretics. We could respond before she gets so sick that we see those clinical signs. So that was a way, and I think the project cost around less than $8,000. That’s so incredible.
That’s so cool. Also, I would like to congratulate you on, um, officially having the nerdiest answer that I’ve ever had on my podcast to any question. Um, and I say that with all the love, because we are all nerds here. Um, but no, that’s just, that’s so incredible. And, um, we always talk on this podcast about, um, uh, you know, awareness and fundraising and yay. If you see a Red Panda, then you’ll like a Red Panda and you’ll volunteer for Red Panda network, but I know that there’s more stuff that’s going on and you touched on it a little bit there, but I’d just love for you to expand on that if you could.
Right. Right. And, and sometimes it’s kind of referred to as front of house and back of house. Zoos obviously started originally as a venue for entertainment. I’m talking decades, centuries ago, and it still is a wonderful place. For education, recreation and fun. So when you go to your zoo, you’re outside, you’re connecting with animals, you’re walking around, you’re being healthy. Some of the money that you pay at the gate to get in helps fund some of these projects on a, on a low level. But there are so many other things that are happening at the zoo besides the entertainment side. And we love our public because if it wasn’t for the people coming to the zoo, the zoo wouldn’t exist. And then we wouldn’t be able to help the animals. And we wouldn’t be able to answer questions, but you’re right. There’s so much that happens at the zoo that the general public doesn’t know about, whether it’s what we do to maintain, um, breeding collections of animals. I’ve been a veterinary advisor for the bonobo SSP, and there’s about a hundred Bonobos in the United States under managed care.
I mean, there’s probably less than 5,000 in the wild. It’s one of the least known apes. Well, the bonobo SSP actually globally manages this population along with the European species survival plan. And so occasionally what happens because it’s a small population and it comes from only a small number of founders that came out of Africa a long time ago, we have to avoid inbreeding. So there are times where we have to manage to send about every five years we send one or two young females from the United States over to Europe and they might send an animal or two back and that’s so we can, we can keep them from becoming inbred. The amount of work that it takes to send an animal from a zoo in the United States to a zoo in Europe is incredible because you’re crossing borders with an endangered species.
So the breeding programs that are are happening at the zoos are amazing. Sometimes it happens right at the zoo. Um, the Milwaukee County zoo has done a great job recently of breeding scenarios, vultures. And so there are young animals that you see when you walk around the zoo, but there are breeding pairs hidden away that wouldn’t breed if the public was looking at them every day. There are people involved in a local projects, uh, We have a femoral ponds that come up on the Milwaukee County Zoo every year. And people study what happens in those ponds. Somebody is looking at flying squirrels on our grounds. There are bird migration studies that happen on the grounds, but then our, our staff also works locally and, and things that are happening in Wisconsin and people work internationally.
My boss for a number of years, Dr. Roberta Wallace, and others who veterinarian had a project looking at Humboldt penguin health, and she’s still working on it down in Chile. And so I think most people don’t know all the stuff that your zoo is doing in the background. And that’s why if you can, if you have the opportunity sometimes to take a behind the scenes tour, that’s where they’re going to show you some of that stuff and talk about the conservation initiatives or the projects that they’re doing.
Absolutely. Very, very cool. Um, so let’s, let’s step back in time for a minute with both of you. I want to start Adine let’s start with you. How did you get to this? Uh, the AAZV and Wild Animal Health Fund. What’s what’s your story?
Well, I have been in philanthropy for a very long time. I also have a business background in accounting and. I know at age 13, I was candy striper. Do you remember them?
I think my mother was one of those so that’s, that’s cool.
Yeah. So it that’s in my blood and who doesn’t love animals. So when the opportunity presented itself, uh, back in 2012, uh, I interviewed and I was successful in getting the first director of development, um, position here at AAZV, loving every minute. I say, it’s my privilege to work with such passionate, intelligent individuals and such beautiful animals. Um, I’m not as scared of snakes and things like that. I will look at them. I will look at their pictures now, but, um, yeah, it’s, it’s been quite interesting. And many times I find myself sitting around the table of lots of veterinarians and the conversation, and it’ll be like, what would you think? And I’m like, I am not a veterinarian. I can bring you guys together. I can organize, do your events. I can fundraise for you. You all handled the science. Let me handle everything else.
That’s awesome. And Vicky, I have to tell you, I ask all of my guests to tell me their story on how they got to where, you know, they are and in their career and everything and about 70 to 80% of the time, the store, you know, I’m talking to a zookeeper or something like that. And the story goes when I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian and then the science was too hard. Or, and then I didn’t like it. And then I, so as the first person I’m having on here, who can actually say I wanted to be a veterinarian and now am one, please tell me a little bit about your history with all of this.
Well, I can say that when I was in fourth grade, I wanted to be a brain surgeon and there were times this is true of every veterinary. And there were times when your family said, don’t, you want to be a real doctor. So veterinarians do have jokes about RDS, real docs. I went to veterinary school because I love science and I loved clinical medicine. I had a chance to work at a practice for a couple of summers and realized that that’s, that’s where my passion lied in clinical medicine, rather than a research where I thought I was going to end up. And I went to veterinary school to be an equine veterinarian, a horse doc. And I went to school in North Carolina and everybody there when the horse world, which was quite snobby, it was like, who have you trained with like right, I didn’t have anybody important I trained with. Our very first year in school, in our behavior class, they asked us to do volunteer projects and I did a couple, but one of them I did was to attend a wildlife rehabilitation class. And while I have immense respect for wildlife, rehabilitates what I really got turned on by is comparative medicine or comparative pathophysiology.
It is so amazing that every species on this earth has an ecological niche and our bodies have adapted to being successful there. So if you live in the water, your kidneys are going to be different than if you live in the desert. Um, and yet there’s so much similarity. Almost every species I work with needs have cholesterol under 200. You know, why is that conserved? Isn’t that amazing? Um, and so a couple years into veterinary school, I really decided that Zoo Medicine was where I wanted to go. And I was one of the fortunate ones that worked hard, hard, and got my chance. So I did, uh, I did a small animal internship at Cornell university, but they needed an, an intern to take all the wildlife and exotic animal emergencies. So I did all that. And then I did a, um, residency at the University of Florida Zoo and Wildlife medicine. And I miss Florida and I miss my hit by car alligators. On the overhead PR they were going Dr. Clyde, please report to the front desk, we have a hit by car alligator and the students would freak out, Oh my God, get the nets, get the gloves….and I would be like: get a blanket if Mr.Public brought in a hit alligator, that gator is probably pretty comatose. I remember once we successfully treated and, uh, got this alligator back to health and it was a small one, it was only about three or four feet long. And I drove my car to the nearest swamp. There’s a little park with a boardwalk, and I carried this alligator out to the end of the boardwalk and slipped it into the water to return it. A few minutes later, these people that had only been standing 10 feet from me, said, Oh, look at the alligator in the water. They hadn’t seen the alligator coming down the boardwalk.
Uh, so then I got a chance to work at the university of Tennessee, which is unique. The veterinary school in Knoxville hires the veterinarians for the Knoxville zoo. And I got to work both in their exotic animal clinic and at the zoo. And then many, many years ago I got hired here at the Milwaukee County Zoo and was there for over 23 years before I retired.
Awesome. Very, very cool. I just love hearing these cool stories and, and, you know, it’s, it’s very inspirational to me.
I’m going to take a moment since, since this is my podcast. And since, uh, I have a lot of friends who are currently pursuing that med and, um, or, or interested in it, and I, I just have to ask, you know, it’s a little off topic, but Vicky, do you have any advice for anybody who wants to get into your field?
Sure. And I give lectures on this to the vet students all the time. I mean, the first thing is you, we jokingly say we’re a specialists in 40,000 vertebrate species. And so you have to realize that you’re never going to know everything, and yet you’re going to have to make decisions. And so the more you can learn about any animal or any production system, None of that will ever go to waste. So be as broad in your learning as you can. One of my interests in vet school was pig medicine. So I learned about a lot about that ventilation and waste management. And those are things that you do yeah. Within zoos. Um, so there’s, so you need to learn everything and not specialized to down too much. Uh, you have to have decent grades because most of the residency’s in zoo and wildlife medicine are based through academic facility of veterinary school. And they’re going to want to know that you can keep up with your academic coursework and that you’re going to be able to teach people. So you want to, if you can, I think maintaining a B average is, is, is important.
If you can’t uh, it doesn’t mean all avenues are closed. If you don’t have a B average, you’re going to have to work harder. And then the nice thing about the field that there are several avenues you can get into it. Um, I know a lot of people like to volunteer at zoos when they’re really young, but to be honest with you, if you’re working in the health field and endangered species is not where you should learn how to do things. So we really want to take veterinary students, not younger students into the programs that we have, because I want you to know how to draw blood on a dog or a cat or a cow before you come out wanting to draw blood on some of our endangered or exotic species. So, you know, get the experience at local veterinarians, if you do wildlife rehabilitation, that’s great. Um, but realize that you’re probably not going to be able to work at the zoo as a 16 year old, or you’re going to be working in the smaller zoos to get that experience, but make sure you get time doing clinical medicine, because they’re going to want to know that you really like that. Um, other than that, it’s just talk to people field and then find a program that meets your needs.
If you want to be a whale or dolphin person, then. Milwaukee is not the program for you. That’s just not something we specialize in. Um, and then if possible for your advanced training, make sure you go somewhere where you have multiple mentors, because there’s lots of ways to do things in zoo medicine. And you want to put as many tools as you can in your toolbox. So later in life, when you’re faced with a problem, you go, “Oh yeah, I can do that.” One of my mentors showed me how in the field, you can use a propane torch and a screwdriver to cauterize wounds.
Whoa. That’s amazing.
You have nothing else. You can stop that animal from bleeding. Have I ever used that? No, but should I be in that situation, I know how to do it.
That’s really cool. Awesome. Thank you for that. And now, okay, so let’s get back to the Wild Animal Health Fund. Cause you know, that is the point of the episode, I suppose. I do have a question I’ve noticed that a lot of the talk about the studies being done are incredibly species specific, you know, so like we said, Red Panda adrenals, or, well, really, you know, the, gorillas with the very specific markers that you were looking for too many letters for me to remember. But anyway, um, when you do a study like that, how much overlap is there two other species? Is it very species specific or do you often find that, um, the results of one study can help with other species that we don’t know as much about?
Well, certainly I think they can. And the gorilla study helps all of the great apes species. And that’s actually why we formed the Great Ape Heart project because the Bonobos we were working on, and the chimps were working on it. We realized if we all worked together, we can learn so much faster. It’s hard though, to do a study. I mean, so anytime you learn information, we are have the ability to extrapolate it to similar species, but that’s what we’ve been doing for decades. And what we really want it is the ability to drill down on certain things. I mean, I gave the example of the taper before, or the rhinoceros. We’ve always used the horse, especially on a nutritional basis as their closest domestic animal, but we know they’re very different and there are a lot of GI issues on them. So we need both in rhinos and in tapers to being doing nutritional studies, what we learned from one would help with the other, but we want to be able to get more species specific and stop applying these generalized concepts. So yes, all knowledge helps and all the time is that’s. We go this study in mountain goat showed such and such.
One of the things they found is, um, goats need much higher doses of, uh, ivermectin to have the same effect to say a dog. And so, yes, we found that in all species of goats, that seems to be true, but we have studied it in all species of goats. So we, we use the information we get and make leaps of imagination, leaps of hope.
And then each of those, and then each of those leaps are the more studies that get done. The leaps become less loopy and more of a hop. Then we keep working through the Wild Animal Health Fund to get to the very drilled down individual species stuff.
Right. And you know, one of those problems has been bird medicine or avian medicine. So when I was starting in the career 30 years ago, you know, when you learned avian medicine, you learned about parrots and chickens. One of the things you learned is that parrots are nothing like chickens. Eventually you figure out that there can’t be an avian medicine. That’s like saying mammalian medicine, but I don’t treat a cow the same way I treat a hamster. So in the last, you know, 30 to 50 years, the amount of knowledge we’ve had to take bird medicine down and now look at Raptors vs. parrots. Um, they aren’t all the same, even though philosophically they’re all birds. Actually, physiologically they’re all birds but they have to be treated differently.
One thing that’s going on right now is one of the most commonly used pain medications seems to affect different species of birds differently. And while it’s incredibly safe in some speed bird species, it looks like it could be harmful to some of the water birds, pelicans are being looked at. I’ve seen it happen in some of the other aquatic birds. So initially you thought, well, this drug is a great bird drug, but now we’re learning it is good in this species. It’s good in this group, but it’s not good in that group. And that’s what I mean about drilling down. We want to go from those generalities to the specific so we can make educated decisions, not educated guesses.
That’s that’s awesome. I love that. Um, cool. So Adine, tell me your thoughts here on like how big are y’all and how big of a project is this and is there a benefit to your size versus, other organizations?
Well, I’ll answer the latter first. A large amount of the general public have heard from or heard about the large conservation groups doing fantastic work. Going back to sort of what Vicki was just saying is the drilling down into animal health. There’s not many, if any other large organizations that are primarily focused on animal health in zoological animals. So we are inline with conservation with what we are doing. Our focus is just on animal health. As far as the Wild Animal Health Fund, we’ve got some really nice statistics. I mean, we have funded over 90 projects so far. We started funding projects under the name of the Wild Animal Health Fund since 2012.
So since 2012, we’ve got 90 funded projects. That includes probably about 60 different species. We have funded about $800,000 in funds to these 90 projects, which is huge for us. We have received 411 research grant proposals, but as you can tell by saying we’ve only funded 90, we’ve left over 300 on the table. That doesn’t mean they aren’t great projects. It just means 1) We ran out of funding and that’s basically the bottom line. So Wild Animal Health Fund represents two things 1) we represent a funding resource for the researchers and 2) we represent the fundraising side of getting the attention to things.
Cool. And then if you know, if people want to send you some funds for that raising, what is the best way for people to help out the Wild Animal Health Fund? Well, one, I appreciate your followers and listening to you today. But two, we have a website and it’s called the www.wildanimalhealthfund.org On our website, we have a donate button. We have several pages of information on several of our species or projects, our leadership, we’re very transparent. We’ve got GuideStar Platinum rating. We have a social media following on Facebook and we also have Instagram and Twitter.
So there’s lots of ways. And we would love for people to subscribe, send us their email; we generate newsletters. If not monthly, close to monthly.
Very cool. So lately there has been, and I’m talking outside of the world of animals here, but just a lot of controversy and there’s a whole lot of people who have suddenly decided that science isn’t real or is a big conspiracy or something like that. I would love to hear either or both of your takes on that: as people who are in the world and making a positive difference using science, and I’m guessing also not getting super rich from it in the process.
Science is incredibly important to all of us and yes, I am a science nerd. I believe in science, I believe in truth. And I believe you need to be accurate and precise and honest when you’re making statements that are based in science. I think our in the entire high quality of life that we live right now has come about because of science. I think what happens is we do a bad job of teaching people about what science is and about how scientific knowledge grows.
All science is, is asking a question and then trying to answer that question usually in ways that you can measure, because you don’t want it to be someone’s opinion. You want it to be something that you discovered and that is what they call reproducible. Oh. And like 20 years ago, there was this big blow up in the news about why do we repeat studies if this has already been done? Why would another scientist do it? No study is true until it’s been replicated by another scientist in another location. So you want that reproducibility. And what that reproducibility does is it develops a general consensus. And so as hundreds of projects get done, you start seeing different sides of an issue. When the first project was done, you learned one thing as you learn, as you do 10 more projects in that field, you learn 10 more things. You put all that information together and you go, aha. We learned something, but then someone does a hundred projects in the field. And you realize that your initial knowledge was naive, basic, small. I don’t know what the right word is. You get more information and you build on that. So it’s like building a mountain. The more information you have, the higher that mountain gets the farther, or you can see. And so I think the other thing that the general public has problems with about science is they think that science changes or knowledge changes and they’re right in that it grows and it gets more refined and it gets better.
But it’s confusing sometimes, especially confusing the way the media reports it, where they make it seem like this is the answer. And then a year later there’s another answer. And then four years after that, there’s a third answer. And what we’re doing is we’re developing scientific consensus by getting more information. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. So I think science is important. I think truth is important, but we need to be better consumers of information. When someone tells us something, we need to be able to ask, where did you get that piece of information? How was the information collected? Was it peer reviewed?
We need to do a better job in school of teaching people how to be critical consumers of information. And I’m sure, you know, social media is really fun, but it may not be the place you should go to get a scientific answer. Or if somebody gives you an answer on social media, they better site where they got the information that they’re using to make that fun comment or whatever.
Oh, I loved that answer. So, so, so much that was, you know, I have to give you props, you are an excellent, excellent scientific communicator. Yes. Well, we all need to get better at that. I agree. We all struggle with that because we want to communicate, but we also don’t want to gloss over and it’s, it’s a hard balance sometime.
Um, so we’re, we’re coming towards the end here. So, uh, I did want to open the floor to the, both of you, um, to see if there’s anything else that you want to mention about Wild Animal Health Fund or AAZV or anyone, anything, a best friend that you want to give a shout out to. Um, so let, let’s start with Vicky.
Well, I was really surprised when I learned from Adine that the Wild Animal Health Fund now has over 2,400 annual donors. And I just wanted to send out a thanks in case one of our listeners is one of those 2,400 donors and say a prospective thanks to anyone who’s listening that becomes one of our donors.
And I think another way that people can donate to things they really believe in, but don’t think about often is a legacy gift. So my husband and I have it in our will that when we die, once everything is taken care of, a certain percentage of what’s left over will go to the Wild Animal Health Fund. Whether that’s for your local zoo, for the Wild Animal Health Fund or something that you cherish and you think is important, that’s a great way to ensure the sustainability of that group for years and decades to come.
Wow. Never really thought about that or heard about that. So. All right. Very cool. And, uh, Adine how about you?
Absolutely. I think, um, thanking our donors is in the forefront because we wouldn’t be here today. You know, my love for the animals and taking on this challenge. I do say it’s a challenge because we can’t open our doors and let people touch rhinos. We are in an office but I can talk about them. I can put people in contact with the individuals and veterinarians who are in contact with the animals are working on the projects. So it’s very, very special. It’s very endearing to be able to do this. And, um, and then at the end, I mean, it it’s all about the animals. And if you are passionate about animals and want to continue providing good health too.
I love it. I think the other thing that’s fabulous about Wild Animal Health Fund is we’re still a small organization and so even as if you can only make a small gift, you’re making a huge impact.
That is definitely important to note. Um, very cool. And then, as is the tradition, we have the poop story! Hit me.
Oh, one afternoon, I was doing surgery on a snake. We had a nest of ties, the snake. He was lying out on the surgery table. You have to have a long table. We had stairs, the area he had the drapes on and I had opened the skin with the scalpel blade, went over my rating. Oh, I hear this panicked voice saying that one of our dairy cows( Milwaukee County zoo does have a working dairy farm at the zoo) that one of the cows had fallen into the pit.
Well, Milwaukee County Zoo has this very novel way of managing manure. They have these round pits that are about 12 feet deep, about 8 feet wide that the keepers will wheel barrel all the manure into. And then we have this large, it’s what they used to vacuum highways up, and they will put the tube in there and suck all the feces out. I thought, oh my goodness, this cow has fallen into a pit. A cow has fallen into this 12 foot deep pit. We’re going to need anesthesia. We’re going to need pieces of equipment, but I have a snake under anesthesia. Of course, I’m the only vet at the zoo. So the first thing I do is start sewing. Luckily I hadn’t gone into the abdomen.
Yeah. I just opened the skin. So I quickly put sutures in it and we put the poor snake in a cage while I ran down to the farm, the farm in the zoo. And luckily the person on the radio was mistaken. The cow had not fallen into the pit. Thank goodness. But the cow had slipped and got its leg hooked in a gutter. So in typical cows stalls where they facing one direction right behind their back legs, there’s usually a time trough. So when they poop, it goes into the trough and they’re not standing in their manure. And then there’s a big piece of machinery that periodically scrapes that gutter out to keep them clean while the cow had slipped and gotten its leg hooked under the lid of lip of the gutter.
So she was just lying, still chewing her cud acting perfectly fine, but obviously she couldn’t get up and she was worried. So she has been creating now 30 minutes of diarrhea and this six foot wide, six foot deep trough is just filled with green fluid. And the head of the zoo is there, the head of operations is there, the mechanics are there all the large, um, equipment people are there.
So there’s about 30 people standing around watching this cow. And in my mind, I’m like, well, this is simple. Someone just has to reach down there and unhook her hock from the, from the lip of that gutter. And she’ll be able to get up. Someone needs to plunge their hands into all that diarrhea. And as I look around and see the mechanics and the maintenance guys and the director, I realize who has that specialized training the veterinarian.
So yes, it was my job to stick my hands into the poop, unhook her leg, and then she stood up and walked back to her stall. And, uh, I found the nearest sink.
Amazing. I love it. Um, thank you all so much for, for doing this. This has been a blast. Thank you, Jon. We appreciate it.
Thank you, Vicki. You’re incredible.
You’re welcome. Thank you, John. It’s great talking to you.
As Adine mentioned in the interview, you can check out www.wildanimalhealthfund.org , right at the top is a button to donate. And again, 100% of every donation goes into funding. These amazing studies that you’ve heard about now. And, uh, wasn’t that just incredible? Um, I especially love how Vicky just so casually drops knowledge.
She’s just such a cool, brilliant woman. That was awesome. And, Adine was just so great to work with on all of this and setting everything up. It’s it’s an amazing organization. Y’all, you know, along with checking out their website, you can check them out on all the social medias at wild animal health fund guys.
Their Instagram following is low. I would love to see us pump that up a little bit, a whole lot of people on Facebook, but I’m not as much of the podcast generation out there. So, so go ahead and give them a follow on Instagram as well as Facebook and Twitter at Wild Animal Health Fund. And let’s get those numbers up for them.
And seriously, if you love any. Cool wild species that are currently in captivity. And you want to know that you’re having an impact on their, uh, health and, and our understanding of them and their long-term ability to thrive in captivity and in the wild, then make a donation to the Wild Animal Health Fund.
Uh, okay. I hope you enjoyed listening. As much as I enjoyed making our theme song is sevens by Nathan Burton performed by Nathan Burton and Jon Rossi listening.
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